LISBON, May 24 (Reuters) - Portugal's economy is outpacing the official growth forecast, fuelled by exports and investment, and is set to reach more than 3 percent in the second quarter and more than 2 percent for the whole of 2017, the finance minister said on Wednesday.
Speaking to Reuters in an interview, Mario Centeno said he was confident about Portugal's improving economic outlook after years in the doldrums during the euro zone debt crisis, when the country was forced to seek a bailout.
Lisbon's official growth forecast for 2017 is 1.8 percent.
"The government's message is that economic growth is strong and sustained, and it is accelerating," Centeno told Reuters. "The fact is that we are converging with the European Union, we are finally converging."
He said year-on-year growth in the second quarter was likely to be "above 3 percent, given the acceleration we are seeing". In the first quarter the economy grew 2.8 percent compared with a year earlier, its strongest in a decade.
For all of 2017, Centeno said "there is no question" that growth would be higher than 2 percent. He would not give a new, precise estimate for this year, but said higher growth will "definitely be incorporated into our projections".
Portugal has been one of Europe's slowest growing economies for years, and it was hit by its worst downturn since the 1970s during the 2010-13 debt crisis, so an accelerating expansion now is welcome news to Centeno's Socialist government.
In order to take advantage of growing demand for Portugal's debt, Centeno said the country was planning soon to issue short-term bonds in yuan, which could mark the first debt issue in China's currency by a euro member. (Reporting by Axel Bugge and Sergio Goncalves; Editing by Mark Bendeich)