YEAR TO SEND RUSSIA'S GDP 7.1% UP?

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MOSCOW, August 18 (RIA Novosti) - An official forecast for Russia's gross domestic product increase within the year may rise to 7.1 per cent-as against a current 6.9 per cent, due to huge petroleum prices, Andrei Sharonov, Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Trade, said to newsmen.

"Our prognostication must be not only reliable but conservative enough. If we predict an exorbitant rise, the forecast will be not so trustworthy as it should be," he cautiously remarked.

The figure 7.1% comes from a recent forecast by German Gref, Minister of Economic Development and Trade. The bigger rise will be possible if petroleum prices keep on above $30 a barrel, he said.

Even though certain projects to be privatized are on a newly drawn list of companies of a strategic purport, the federal government does not intend to review its privatization blueprints for this and next year, reassured Mr. Sharonov as he was addressing a media gathering today.

The Cabinet will appeal to the federal President in writing to approve the 2004-05 privatization program the way it was, he added.

Strategic project list drafting started back in 2001. The final version comprises a bloated number of companies. It exceeds the initial four- or even 4.5-fold to include companies whose strategic purport the deputy minister doubts.

The 2004-05 privatization program includes many corporate giants-suffice it to mention the Svyazinvest communications company, Aeroflot, the Rosgosstrakh insurers, the Domodedovo and Krasnoyarsk airlines, and the Tuapse, Novorossiisk and St. Petersburg seaports. Now, a majority of companies are on the strategic list, which President Vladimir Putin approved with a decree of August 4.

Andrei Sharonov next turned to the predicaments of Gazprom, Russia's gas export monopoly. Its capitalization is drastically shrinking. The deputy minister tracked down the problem to the gray patterns the company uses to sell its stock. To cure the matter,he spoke up for the Gazprom stock market liberalized promptly and thoroughly.

The Cabinet intends to liberalize the Gazprom stock before the year's end, German Gref announced on a previous occasion. "Our plans stay unchanged, with liberalization within the year." The minister, however, acknowledged a number of related problems, without specifying which.

Stock liberalization is essentially important for the company top. The managers have addressed the Cabinet and the Kremlin staff with initiatives concerning practical arrangements of the endeavor, Alexei Miller, Gazprom president, repeatedly said.

Liberalization efforts are to pool in the domestic and foreign Gazprom stock markets. At present, domestic rates are much below foreign, while overseas bidders have no right to purchase Gazprom shares in Russia-they need U.S. depositary receipts for such deals.

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