* Trade surplus of 2.6 bln Swiss francs in Jan
* Exports rise a real 4.7 percent
* Sales to North America up 11.2 percent
ZURICH, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Swiss exports grew robustly in January, supported by strong sales of chemicals and pharmaceuticals and helped by buoyant demand from North and Latin America.
Exports from Switzerland rose by a real 4.7 percent in January to 17.110 billion Swiss francs ($19.27 billion), while imports slipped 0.2 percent to 14.515 billion, the Federal Customs Office said on Thursday.
Adjusted for seasonal factors, exports rose by a real 2.5 percent, while imports fell 2.3 percent.
Exports grew in six of the 10 most important sectors. Sales of pharmaceuticals and chemicals, the country’s biggest export category, were up by a real 11.3 percent, while sales of watches rose 5 percent.
The increase in exports adds to data suggesting sustained economic growth after 0.5 percent growth in the third quarter of last year. The Swiss government expects the export recovery to spur 2.3 percent growth in 2014, up from an estimated 1.9 percent in 2013.
Switzerland’s manufacturing sector accelerated in January with well-stocked order books pointing to further expansion ahead, while consumer prices inched up for the third month in a row, adding to signs that deflation pressures are easing.
Swiss exports have been supported by a cap the central bank imposed on the soaring franc currency in 2011, but have suffered from sluggish demand in Europe.
Sales to Europe - the country’s biggest trading partner - rose by a nominal 2.8 percent, with sales to Britain particularly strong, up 32.3 percent.
In North and Latin America, Swiss exports rose 11.2 and 29.3 percent respectively.
Overall, Switzerland ran a merchandise trade surplus of 2.6 billion Swiss francs.
$1 = 0.8878 Swiss francs Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Ruth Pitchford