ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s gold imports are expected to be around 2004’s record-high levels this year with an expected easing of demand towards the end of 2005 reining in growth so far this year, gold dealers said on Thursday. World prices have risen above $438 per ounce from $417 early in the year, and this high level may deter gold investors from opening fresh positions and contribute to the slowing imports, dealers said. «More people are getting married due to increased purchasing power compared to last year, and sales to tourists peak in the summer,» a bank’s gold trading official said. «But I do not think that this level of demand will continue after August,» the same official said. Giving brides gold is a widely practiced tradition in Turkey, and is the main source of demand for gold products. Pent-up demand brought imports to a record level last year, but the economy is adjusting and it will be difficult for imports to exceed 250 tons, he said. Istanbul Gold Exchange data shows Turkish imports rose 21.5 percent year-on-year to 186.24 tons in the first seven months. Imports hit an all-time high last year at 250.93 tons. Turkey imports bullion from Switzerland, Luxembourg and South Africa. Turkish jewelry exports are expected to rise 25-30 percent this year, challenging market leader Italy, sector officials said. The World Gold Council predicts Turkish exports of 274 tons this year, up from last year’s 240 tons. Turkish jewellery sector officials said exports could hit $1.3 billion this year, up from nearly $1 billion in 2004. «Exports rose 27 percent in the first seven months and this is quite a good figure,» said Murat Akman, general manager of the World Gold Council Turkey. «Italy continues to lose volume. In January Turkey beat Italy for the first time in exports to the United States,» said Akman. Jewelry fairs in Istanbul greatly help promotion of Turkish products, he said. «The fair in March was very successful. We hosted 5,000 foreign buyers this year compared to 3,500 last year.» He said leading US buyers would come to a fair this month.