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Norway presents 2003 budget with 22.2-billion-euro surplus

OSLO, Oct 3 (AFP) - Norway's centre-right government presented on Thursday a draft 2003 budget forecasting a 162-billion-kroner (22.2-billion-euro, 21.9-billion-dollar) surplus owing to the country's abundant oil revenues. The country's oil and gas revenues are expected to gross 188.9 billion kroner next year. Excluding those revenues, the 2003 budget proposal would have a deficit of 30.7 billion kroner. Presenting the budget bill to parliament, the government predicted Norway's continental gross domestic product, excluding oil, gas and shipping, would rise by 1.8 percent in 2003, while inflation would grow by 2.25 percent. It said it expected the average price of a barrel of crude oil to be 180 kroner (24.3 dollars) next year. With its vast oil and gas fields in the North Sea, Norway is the world's third-largest oil exporter behind Saudi Arabia and Russia. Regardless of which government is in power, almost all of the revenues from the state's share of the oil wealth are placed in a special Petroleum Fund, which in turn is invested in international shares and bonds. The fund is to be used to pay pensions, and the finance ministry uses only what it needs to balance the public accounts.