BRUSSELS, Feb 15 (Reuters) - The euro zone posted an increase in its trade surplus in December, albeit lower than expected, as imports fell steeper than exports, data showed on Friday.
The European Union's statistics office Eurostat said the unadjusted trade surplus of the 17 countries sharing the euro was 11.7 billion euros ($15.6 billion) in December.
This was higher than 8.0 billion euros a year earlier, but was below the 13.1 billion euros economists polled by Reuters forecasted.
The statistics office also revised down November 2012's figure from 13.7 billion euros to 13.0 billion.
For the whole of 2012, the single currency bloc recorded an overall 81.8 billion euro surplus, with exports up 7 percent and imports rising 2 percent from 2011.
Data showed that for the period from January to November 2012, rising exports of manufactured goods more than offset increasing imports of energy.
Adjusted for seasonal swings, eurozone exports were down 1.8 percent in December month-on-month, and imports dropped 3.0 percent.
The trade surplus of Europe's biggest exporter, Germany, grew further in the first 11 months of 2012 to almost 175 billion euros from 145 billion a year earlier.
But the biggest single improvement was in Italy, which swung to a 9 billion euro surplus in the first 11 months of 2012 from a deficit of almost 27 billion euros a year earlier.
Countries under European Union and International Monetary Fund emergency funding programmes to bring public finances back on track showed improving or stable trade results.
Portugal's trade deficit fell to 9.7 billion euros for the period January-November, from 15.2 billion euros, and Greece's shrank to 19.0 billion euros from 20.1 billion.
Ireland kept a steady surplus of 39.9 billion in the first 11 months of the year, from 40.0 billion euros a year earlier. ($1 = 0.7495 euros)
(Reporting By Ethan Bilby; editing by Philip Blenkinsop) Keywords: EUROZONE TRADE/
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