ASTANA, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Kazakhstan may lift a ban on the export of gasoline and diesel fuel a year earlier than planned to help local refineries increase profits after spending heavily on equipment upgrades, Energy Minister Kanat Bozumbayev said on Monday.
Under an agreement with Russia, Kazakhstan in 2014 banned exports of so-called white products, including gasoline and diesel fuel, until Jan. 1, 2019. In exchange, the former Soviet republic receives duty-free fuel from Russia.
Bozumbayev told reporters the government planned to initiate talks with Russia about lifting the ban from January 2018 as that would help refineries repay "loans taken out to finance costly upgrades".
Kazakhstan has three main oil refineries and after the upgrades they could boost output of gasoline and diesel fuel to a level exceeding domestic demand by 1.5-2.0 million tonnes a year for each product, Bozumbayev said.
The Atyray and Pavlodar refineries plan to complete equipment upgrades in the second half of this year, while the Shymkent refinery aims to finish upgrades next year.
Kazakhstan imported 609,000 tonnes of gasoline from Russia by rail in January-July this year, down from 640,000 tonnes a year earlier. However, the Central Asian nation also imported 168,000 tonnes of diesel fuel and 179,000 tonnes of airplane fuel from Russia, up from 81,000 tonnes and 112,000 tonnes respectively. (Reporting by Raushan Nurshayeva; Writing by Alla Afanasyeva and Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Susan Fenton)