ULAANBAATAR, April 12 (Reuters) - Mongolia's foreign trade surplus hit $523.7 million in the first quarter of the year, up 45.5 percent from the same period in 2016, the country's statistics office said on Wednesday.
The increase was driven by a 446 percent surge in coal trade, which reached $541.3 million over the period, while total mineral exports were up 58 percent, the National Statistical Office said. Minerals represented 89.2 percent of Mongolia's total exports over the period.
Mongolia's trade surplus for the whole of 2016 stood at $1.56 billion, up 79 percent on the year.
But an economic slowdown caused by dwindling foreign investment and declining commodity prices turned into a full-blown crisis last year as Mongolia's currency, the tugrik, plummeted.
Amid concerns it would be unable to repay debt, the country agreed a $5.5 billion bailout with the International Monetary Fund and other partners in February.
The ruling Mongolian People's Party has blamed the country's economic woes on the previous government's expansionist fiscal policies. It is attempting to reverse course with policies aimed at curbing government spending and attracting foreign investment, especially in its lucrative natural resources.
Despite plans to raise taxes and cut spending, the MPP has a narrow lead in public support ahead of presidential elections set for June 26, according to a survey published this week by the Sant Maral Foundation, a Mongolian polling organisation.
The MPP was setting Mongolia in the "right direction", 35.9 percent of respondents said, while 28.3 percent said it was taking the country in the "wrong direction".
Candidates for the presidential election have not yet been announced. Incumbent Tsakhia Elebegdorj of the Democratic Party will step down after completing his maximum two terms in office.
(Reporting by Terrence Edwards; Editing by David Stanway and Susan Thomas)
Source:Reuters news agency