* Exports down 6 pct while imports surge 10 pct
* Weak 2011-12 grains harvest hurting exports
BUENOS AIRES, March 21 Argentina's February
trade surplus shrank 61 percent from a year earlier to $521
million as imports surged, led by fuel purchases
from abroad, the INDEC statistics institute said on Thursday.
Last month's figure was just above the $500 million median
estimate given by seven analysts in a Reuters poll. Their
forecasts ranged widely from $402 million to $1.39 billion.
Exports fell 6 percent in February versus the same month
last year, while imports rose 10 percent on the back of a 33
percent jump in fuel purchases and a 19 percent increase in
imported parts and accessories for capital goods.
Growth in Argentina, Latin America's No. 3 economy, slowed
sharply last year due to sluggish global demand, high inflation,
a poor grains harvest and the impact of government import and
currency controls on business confidence and investment.
A drought slashed soybean and corn output in the 2011-12
crop year, reducing shipments abroad from Argentina, a key
global grains supplier.
January's trade surplus shrank 49 percent year-on-year to
$280 million as imports grew for the first time since sweeping
government controls were put in place in February 2012.
The curbs were meant to bolster the trade surplus, a key
source of foreign currency in a country that uses international
reserves to pay debt. Argentina has been virtually locked out of
global credit markets since its massive debt default in 2002.
The country's trade surplus totaled $1.34 billion in