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UPDATE 1-Bank of Canada sees hope for exports, inflation risks

(Adds background, comments on low rates, export forecasts)

SASKATOON, Saskatchewan, April 24 (Reuters) - The Bank of Canada is more hopeful than before for the recovery of the country's exports but if exports do worse than expected, overall inflation will fall again and drift further from the target, Governor Stephen Poloz said on Thursday.

A new study by the central bank of Canada's non-energy exports found that while some sectors had not rebounded in line with foreign demand, other sectors representing about half of total exports should benefit from foreign expansion, he said.

"The bank's analysis has given us a more granular interpretation of the export picture - and gives us more hope for the recovery of our non-energy export sector," Poloz said in the prepared text of a speech to a business audience.

Poloz had previously confessed to being puzzled by Canada's lagging exports and said a recovery of the sector was a prerequisite for full economic comeback.

Higher consumer energy prices should push total inflation up in the next few quarters but this will be transitory and therefore "the downside risks to inflation remain important," he said. The bank targets 2 percent inflation.

"We already have what looks like a soft landing emerging in housing, so it is crucial that at the same time there is a pickup of momentum in our exports, which we believe will then be followed by a pickup in business investment," Poloz outlined.

"However, if, for some reason, the export recovery were less than we're predicting, then total inflation, having gone up to target, will simply drift back down to converge with core inflation at perhaps around 1 percent, because the output gap will be just as big as before."

The bank's analysis, published Thursday, of 31 non-energy export sectors found that the recent depreciation of the Canadian dollar would help some industries, but that the majority of sectors that had been doing well - and which the bank says should drive the export recovery - are less likely to benefit from the lower currency.

Poloz said the analysis "feeds critically into our policy decision making."

He said even after inflation returns to target and the economy returns to full capacity, expected in early 2016, interest rates could remain lower than in the past.

"Our economy has room to grow. And, when we do get home, there is a growing consensus that interest rates will still be lower than we were accustomed to in the past," Poloz said.

The Bank of Canada held its main interest rate at 1.0 percent last week and maintained its neutral stance, saying a rate cut was still a possibility.

The bank is seen hiking rates in the third quarter of 2015, according to the median forecast in a Reuters poll in early April.

Canada's export credit agency estimated in a report on Thursday that Canadian exports would grow by about 2.5 percent this year and accelerate to 5.8 percent in 2015, helped by a weaker currency and stronger global growth.

It also forecast the weaker Canadian dollar could add as much as half a percentage point to gross domestic product in 2014.

(Writing by Louise Egan and Randall Palmer; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)