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UPDATE 1-Japan exports slow on Lunar New Year holidays, uptrend intact

(Adds analyst's quote, detail)

* Feb exports +1.8 pct yr/yr vs forecast +1.9 pct

* Imports +16.5 pct yr/yr; trade surplus 3.4 bln yen

* Global demand seen solid, US trade policy a worry -analyst

TOKYO, March 19 (Reuters) - Japan's exports rose for a 15th straight month in February but slowed sharply from the prior month as shipments stalled because of Lunar New Year holidays - an event analysts dismissed as a one-off blip in the context of solid overseas demand.

Ministry of Finance (MOF) data out on Monday showed exports grew 1.8 percent, roughly in line with a 1.9 percent increase expected by economists in a Reuters poll. It followed a revised 12.3 percent rise in January.

In volume terms, Japan's exports fell 2.1 percent in February from a year ago, the first drop in 13 months, the data showed.

Analysts expect solid global demand for semiconductors and electronics will support gradual expansion in exports, but they also worry that U.S. President Donald Trump's import tariffs on steel and aluminum could spark a trade war.

"Based on the firm trend in overseas machinery orders and the elevated level of business sentiment globally, we see a solid outlook for exports," said Yuichiro Nagai, economist at Barclays Securities.

By region, exports to China, Japan's biggest trading partner, fell 9.7 percent year-on-year in February, the trade data showed.

Shipments to Asia, which account for more than half of Japan's exports, declined 3.2 percent in the year to February.

U.S.-bound shipments rose 4.3 percent in the year to February, driven by hybrid cars. Automobile shipments to the United States jumped 12.3 percent.

Japan's trade surplus with the United States rose an annual 3.4 percent in February to 631 billion yen ($5.94 billion) - the first gain in three months - at a time when Trump seeks bilateral deals to fix trade imbalances under his "America First" policy.

Trump pressed ahead earlier this month with import tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, describing the dumping of these products in the U.S. market as "an assault on our country."

Japan's overall imports rose 16.5 percent in the year to February, broadly matching the median estimate of a 17.1 percent increase, led by imports of clothing from China and rising costs of crude oil and liquefied natural gas.

The overall trade balance came to a surplus of 3.4 billion yen, versus the median estimate of a 99.6 billion yen deficit.

($1 = 106.1400 yen) (Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Chris Gallagher and Eric Meijer)