Turkmenistan invites bids for second potash plant construction

ASHGABAT, April 17 (Reuters) - Turkmenistan invited official bids on Monday for a project to build the Central Asian nation’s second potash plant, stepping up the government’s push to compensate for a downturn in its natural gas sector.

The announcement published by state-run Turkmenhimiya said the plant would be based at the Karabil potash deposit. It provided no financial details, but two sources at the company told Reuters the project is worth about $1.4 billion.

Turkmenistan, which has faced foreign currency shortages after its gas exports were hit by declining prices and volumes, is banking on the start of potash production and other projects to bolster the economy.

The former Soviet republic opened a $1 billion Belarussian-built potash plant last month, aiming to export an annual 1.2 million tonnes of fertiliser to China and India as part of its drive to diversify away from natural gas exports.

As a potash exporter, Turkmenistan will compete with its former Soviet overlord Russia, home to the world’s biggest producer Uralkali, and Belarus.

Belarussian companies built the plant launched last month and Minsk has said it will help Turkmenistan to market the product. (Reporting by Marat Gurt; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by David Goodman)