Algeria's energy earnings up 16.5 pct in 2017 - customs

ALGIERS, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Algeria’s energy earnings, the main source of state finances, rose 16.45 percent in 2017, helping to reduce the trade deficit by 34.4 percent, according to official figures reviewed by Reuters on Monday.

The decline in the deficit pushed up the coverage of imports by exports to 76 percent, against 64 percent in 2016, customs data showed.

Oil and gas exports, which accounted for 94.54 percent of total exports, stood at $32.86 billion in 2017, up from $28.22 billion the previous year.

The value of overall exports reached $34.76 billion, a 15.8 percent rise from 2016, while imports declined by 2.4 percent to $45.95 billion.

Fuel was among the main products imported last year, with its cost climbing by 23 percent to $2 billion from $1.61 billion in 2016.

State energy firm Sonatrach’s officials last week said the company had signed a deal with Vitol, the world’s largest oil trader, to exchange oil for refined products to try to cut the fuel import bill.

They also said Sonatrach was in talks to buy shares in a foreign refinery, without providing details.

Algeria had restricted imports by requiring special licences in an attempt to reduce spending and cope with financial pressures after a fall in crude oil prices since mid-2014.

But the rules hardly reduced the import bill, forcing the government this year to remove the licensing system and replace it with a ban of imports of around 900 products, including cell phones and food. (Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; Editing by Ulf Laessing and Mark Potter)