UPDATE 2-US 'fiscal cliff', commodities volatility risks for Latam-IMF
* Euro zone woes also a potential risk for region
* IMF's Lagarde cites macro prudential policies for Latam
* Lagarde doesn't see hard landing in China
* Sees "numbers improving" in world no.2 economy China
(Adds Lagarde quotes, details on China, Argentina)
SANTIAGO, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Inadequate tackling of the so-called U.S. fiscal cliff, an acceleration of the euro zone debt crisis, and volatility in commodity prices are potential risks for export-dependent Latin America, the head of the International Monetary Fund said on Thursday.
The region's economy has been buyoed by its exports to commodities-hungry China, where the IMF's managing director Christine Lagarde said she sees "numbers improving" and a hard landing as an unlikely scenario.
Still, Lagarde stressed the need for Latin American countries to build buffers, accumulate reserves, use macro-prudential measures and diversify their economies to better tackle potential turmoil down the road.
"Threats that i can think of... include obviously a downturn in the US economy that would be caused by the fiscal cliff not being addressed adequately and the medium-term issues raised by fiscal policy and debt not being addressed in a credible fashion either," Lagarde said during a talk with students at the Universidad de Chile in Santiago.
Negotiations on the "fiscal cliff", consisting of tax rises and spending cuts due in early 2013 in the United States, were expected to continue on Thursday. Sharp differences remained between congressional Republicans and the White House in talks to avert an economic slowdown caused by the likely fiscal contraction, and negotiators warned the showdown could drag on past Christmas.
"Number two (as a risk) is a potential acceleration of the euro zone crisis and this sort of very undesirable link between sovereign and banks," Lagarde added. "And third i would say the volatility of commodity prices... there is a potential risk of significant changes."
The economy of Latin America and the Caribbean will likely grow by 3.8 percent in 2013, less than previously forecast, as slower growth in Mexico weighs against a recovery in Brazil and Argentina, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
But the export-dependent region's growth is seen picking up pace from a downwardly-revised 3.1 percent expansion this year, largely defying the effect of the lingering euro zone debt woes and fallout from softer demand from key trade partner China.
LAGARDE DOESN'T SEE CHINESE HARD LANDING
"We see numbers improving (in China)," Lagarde said on Thursday.
New loans and money supply in China were below expectations in November while the pace of overall financing slowed, adding to signs that a recovery in the world No.2 economy will be tepid and uneven even as global demand remains weak.
"We see a clear and distinct policy that will continue and has been re-affirmed by the Chinese authorities in particular," Lagarde added, "so I wouldn't see that as a potential risk."
Lagarde did say very flexible credit conditions in Latin America coupled with limited macro-prudential measures could present a domestic risk, though she said that wasn't happening at the moment.
In addition to exporting a number of commodities ranging from copper to soy products, many Latin American economies have been buoyed by robust domestic demand resulting from easier access to credit.
Lagarde is scheduled to report to the Fund's board on Argentina's progress to improve its inflation and economic growth data on Monday.
In September Lagarde had said she hoped Argentina could avoid IMF sanctions over its flawed economic data and had three months to improve the quality of its statistics.
She declined on Thursday to give details on the upcoming discussion of the controversial data.
"I don't want to prejudge, as I said, dialogue is always open," Lagarde told local TV station Canal 13 after her presentation. "I'm always desperately optimistic," she added.
(Writing by Alexandra Ulmer)