TASHKENT, May 14 (Reuters) - Uzbekistan's government needs to speed up private sector reform to make sure robust economic growth remains sustainable, the International Monetary Fund said, forecasting a strong 2015.
Gross domestic product in Central Asia's most populous nation grew by 8.1 percent last year and remained robust in the first quarter of this year, rising by 7.5 percent, the IMF said in a statement published late on Wednesday.
"Looking ahead, economic growth is expected to remain strong in 2015," it said, noting that sustained and inclusive growth "hinges on the promotion of a dynamic private sector".
Uzbekistan, with a population of 30 million, is a major producer of gas, gold and cotton. The IMF said its fiscal policy remains prudent, with a balanced budget, and the banking sector is stable, well-capitalised and highly liquid.
"Strong public investment and a strategic re-orientation of gas exports from Russia toward China have shielded the economy, so far, from the slowdown experienced by other countries in the region," said the IMF, whose monitoring mission completed a visit to the country this week.
Uzbek authorities indicated they would implement "additional pragmatic measures", including easing foreign exchange control, to stimulate public sector growth, the IMF said.
The country, ruled by President Islam Karimov since 1989, still limits access to foreign currency and controls exchange rates. It has a thriving black market in its sum currency.
The Fund said it welcomed government plans to reduce energy subsidies and privatise more than 1,500 state-owned assets. (Writing by Dmitry Solovyov in Almaty; Editing by Louise Ireland)