UPDATE 1-Ghana targets annual growth of at least 8 pct in next four years

Thu Feb 21, 2013 7:55am EST

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ACCRA Feb 21 (Reuters) - Ghana will target minimum GDP growth of 8 percent over each of the next four years, President John Dramani Mahama said on Thursday in his first state of the nation address since his election in December.

The cocoa, gold and oil exporting West African country has recorded two and half decades of uninterrupted economic expansion, culminating in estimated growth of 14.4 percent last year. It is now one of the world's fastest growing economies.

"My vision in this first term ... is to work to sustain economic growth rates at a minimum of 8 percent in line with our goal of moving our country from a lower-middle income status to the full middle income bracket," he said.

While analysts predict the expansion of its new oil and gas production will likely guarantee healthy growth over the next several years, Ghana has struggled to bolster its weak cedi currency, combat inflation and control budget deficits.

Last year's deficit ballooned to 12.1 percent, nearly double a government target, leading the rating agency Fitch to downgrade the country's economic outlook from stable to negative.

The government cut fuel subsidies, which last year totalled about one billion cedis ($526 million), on Sunday, as one of its measures to curb spending. (Reporting by Kwasi Kpodo; Writing by Joe Bavier; editing by Ron Askew)

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