* December surplus grew 61 percent y/yr as imports fell
* Gov't imposed tough new import rules in February 2012
* Aimed to safeguard foreign reserves, used to pay debt
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 23 Argentina's trade surplus
expanded by 27 percent in 2012 to $12.69 billion,
the government said on Wednesday, after imports fell due to
tough government curbs and an economic slowdown.
Growth in Latin America's No. 3 economy cooled abruptly in
2012 after a nearly nine-year boom. The country's key grains
exports sank after a drought slashed crop production, while
sluggish global conditions, high local inflation and policy
uncertainty also weighed on investment and output.
Last year, Argentine exports fell 3 percent versus 2011 and
imports sank 7 percent, the INDEC statistics institute said. The
trade surplus totaled $10.01 billion in 2011.
In February 2012, the government imposed tough new import
rules to bolster the trade surplus and safeguard the country's
foreign currency reserves. Argentina uses the reserves to pay
debt, freeing up other funds for state spending aimed at
boosting economic growth.
In December, exports fell 5 percent and imports declined 9
percent year-on-year to put the trade surplus at $529 million
. This compared with $329 million in December 2011.
President Cristina Fernandez announced the December and
annual trade surpluses earlier this month but her numbers were
slightly below what INDEC reported on Wednesday.