* December surplus grew 61 percent yr/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
after imports fell due to tough government curbs and an economic
slowdown, government data showed on Wednesday.
Growth in Latin America's third largest economy cooled
abruptly in 2012 after a nearly nine-year boom. The country's
key soy 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,
hurt by a sharp drop in automotive sales to top market Brazil.
Imports dropped 7 percent, hurt by a 13 percent decline in
capital goods and a 9 percent decrease in imported consumer
goods, the INDEC statistics institute said. Costly fuel imports
eased 2 percent in 2012 versus a year earlier.
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 represented a 61 percent increase from the
$329 million surplus seen 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.
In 2011, the trade surplus totaled $10.01 billion.