UPDATE 3-Chile jobless rate 6.1 pct, lowest in nearly six years
* Average 2012 jobless rate was 6.4 percent * Tight labor market luring European professionals By Antonio De la Jara SANTIAGO, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Chile's jobless rate for the last quarter of 2012 dropped to 6.1 percent, the lowest level in almost six years, amid brisk economic growth and an expansion of seasonal agricultural jobs, the INE statistics agency said on Thursday. The unemployment rate, which hit 6.2 percent in September-November period, was forecast to have dropped to 6.0 percent, according to the median forecast of 10 analysts and economists polled by Reuters. "There is a seasonal (agricultural) effect during the last quarter, which boosts employment," the INE said. Agricultural jobs traditionally increase in the Southern Hemisphere's spring and summer months. The fourth-quarter jobless rate was Chile's lowest since the November 2006 to January 2007 period, INE data showed. The jobless rate has been pulled lower by growth in employment outpacing the expansion of the labor force. "Since this government took office (in March 2010), some 700,000 new jobs have been created ... the ability of our economy to continue creating jobs remains solid and firm," President Sebastian Pinera told reporters after the jobless data was released, drawing contrasts with crisis-hit Spain's jobless rate. Chile's average unemployment rate in 2012 was 6.4 percent, well down from an average of 7.1 percent in 2011, the INE said. "Annual increases (in employment) occurred in the sectors of teaching, public administration and defense, and mining and quarrying, while the chief negative impact came from retail," the agency said in its report. In the last quarter of 2011, the jobless rate was 6.6 percent. A tight labor market, along with firm domestic demand and strong economic growth, has prompted Chile's central bank to keep its key interest rate on hold since a surprise cut in January 2012. Chile's small, export-dependent economy has generally fared better than expected despite slowing demand from top trade partner China and fallout from the euro zone crisis. "The Chilean economy continues to perform at a high level. Despite the exuberance of demand against a backdrop of a closed output gap, the central bank is unlikely to hike (rates) in the near term, given benign below-target inflation and growing concerns with (the peso's) strength," Goldman Sachs economist Alberto Ramos said in a note to clients. A buoyant economy, low unemployment and rising wages have been luring foreign professionals to the copper-exporting Andean nation of 16.6 million people, which is in desperate need of skilled workers. The country's economic activity probably grew at its slowest monthly pace in over a year in December as manufacturing production and copper output fell, though domestic demand remained strong, a Reuters poll showed on Wednesday. Chile, the world's top copper miner, also exports wine, fruit and salmon.