Chinese officials said last November the prices sought by the two sides differed by $100 per 1,000 cubic metres. - AP photo

BEIJING: Moscow and Beijing are nearing the “final stage” of agreeing a huge gas deal delayed for years by disputes on price, Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday during a visit to Beijing.

Putin made the comments after meeting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the first day of the two-day visit, his first foreign trip since he announced plans last month to reclaim the Russian presidency.

Russia is the world's largest energy producer, and discussions over pumping gas to China -- the world's top energy consumer -- were expected to top the agenda for his visit, during which he will also meet President Hu Jintao.

“We are close to the final stage of work on gas supplies to Chinese market,” Putin told journalists.

Russian gas giant Gazprom and China National Petroleum Company signed a framework agreement in 2009 that could eventually see almost 70 billion cubic metres of Russian gas sent to China annually for the next 30 years.

But talks have become bogged down in pricing disagreements and contrary to expectations, Hu's June visit to Moscow delivered no breakthrough.

Chinese officials said last November the prices sought by the two sides differed by $100 per 1,000 cubic metres.

Putin arrived in Beijing a day after Russia and China signed 16 economic and trade deals worth over $7 billion, which China's foreign ministry said were “in the fields of technology transfer, research and development and mineral development”.

Among the deals signed on Tuesday was an investment by China's sovereign wealth fund into a new Russian state-backed fund to encourage foreign direct investment in Russia, Peskov said.—AFP

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