May 7, 2020 / 1:19 PM / 23 days ago

UPDATE 2-Chile posts $1.2 bln trade balance in April, copper exports fall

(Updates with additional context on virus´economic impact)

SANTIAGO, May 7 (Reuters) - Chile posted a trade surplus of $1.219 billion in April, the central bank reported Thursday, as both imports and exports from the top copper producer dropped off sharply amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The ballooning trade surplus was largely driven by a plunge in imports, which fell nearly a quarter to $4.135 billion. Petroleum imports dropped 65.6% to $120 million as the South American nation´s economy began to sputter, dragging overall imports down with it.

The value of copper shipments from mining powerhouse Chile also fell 7.8% year-on-year to $2.389 billion in April, the bank said.

Global prices for the red metal remained low through much of April as China, which accounts for about half of copper consumption, struggled to reboot after the coronavirus pandemic ravaged its economy.

Total exports from Chile hit $5.354 billion, a year-on-year decrease of 6.3%, according to the bank, spearheaded by a drop in both industrial and agricultural exports.

The South American nation has been widely praised for its approach to combating the coronavirus, including aggressive testing, flexible region-specific quarantines and quick action to secure additional ventilators for its hospitals.

But the measures to tame the pandemic have come at a cost. Much of Santiago, the capital city and the country´s economic engine, has been under lockdown since March, with all but essential businesses shuttered.

The central bank has warned of a “severe” economic contraction as a result of the virus spread.

Chile has confirmed more than 23,000 cases of COVID-19, and 281 deaths. (Reporting by Dave Sherwood Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Nick Zieminski)

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