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TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan says it has signed an agreement to export up to 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas to China, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

Uzbek gas will be delivered when the second branch of the Turkmenistan-China pipeline is finished in 2011, which goes through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan as well. Up to now, Uzbek gas has been transported exclusively through the Russian Gazprom and LUKoil pipelines.

According to the latest plan, a smaller branch pipeline of the Turkmenistan-China pipeline will cross the territory of Gazli, a town in Turkmenistan's Bukhara region.

In Gazli, Uzbek gas will be pumped into the pipeline. Many experts say that China is openly competing with Russia for Central Asian gas.

LUKoil spokesman Vladimir Semakov told RFE/RL that the projects with China will not affect LUKoil activity in Uzbekistan. Media reports say the projected cost of the 1,830 kilometer-long Turkmenistan-China
gas pipeline will amount to $6.7 billion.

Turkmenistan is expected to deliver 30 billion cubic meters of gas to China annually, while Kazakhstan will export a further 10 billion cubic meters of its gas via a branch pipeline connection.