April 7 (Bloomberg) -- Chile posted a trade surplus of $1.36 billion in March as a surge in copper exports offset the impact of the country's worst earthquake in a half century.
Exports rose 32 percent from a year earlier to $5.46 billion, the highest since January, the central bank said in a report on its Web site today. Imports rose 39 percent to $4.09 billion. The median forecast of 10 economists surveyed by Bloomberg was for a trade surplus of $1.4 billion.
Copper exports for the first three weeks of the month more than doubled to $2.61 billion. Mining of the metal, Chile's biggest export, was only minimally affected by the quake because most mines were located far from the center of the temblor.
Industrial exports fell 25 percent to $741 million in the first three weeks of March, while agricultural exports dropped 26 percent to $257 million after the Feb. 27 earthquake paralyzed ports and damaged production capacity.
"In the very near term, export flows would be distorted due to the damage sustained by some key industries," Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economist Alberto Ramos wrote in a note today.
Fruit growers such as Dole Food Co. will probably see exports normalize in April, said Rodrigo Echeverria, president of Fedefruta, the national association of fruit producers. He said output is already back to almost 100 percent.
"The earthquake could not have come at a worst moment," said Echeverria, who is also the owner of Agricola Echeverria, which exports table grapes to the U.S. "We had already lost 18 days of production because of bad weather."
Exports account for 38 percent of Chile's gross domestic product.
The peso rose 0.7 percent to 516.45 per U.S. dollar at 1:29 p.m. New York time.