The mainland's export growth rate continued to slow in April on the back of the Asian financial crisis but its trade surplus remained strong, Xinhua news agency reported yesterday, quoting figures from the General Administration of Customs. April's exports grew 7.9 per cent year-on-year to US$15.95 billion, down from 9.07 per cent in March. In the first four months, exports grew 11.6 per cent to $56.19 billion, down from 12.8 per cent in the first quarter last year. During the period, Beijing managed to register a trade surplus of $14.9 billion, up from $10.29 billion in the same period last year. Mainland officials predicted a trade surplus of $30 billion this year due to the Asian financial crisis, following a surplus of $40.9 billion last year. Economists yesterday said despite the slowdown, export growth still remained respectable, performing well above expectations. 'Investors' expectations were much worse than this,' Chu Siu-wah, senior economist at the DBS Securities, said. Xinhua said exports had slowed significantly as the impact of Southeast Asia's financial crisis, which erupted in the second half last year, started to take effect. Last year, exports grew by more than 20 per cent. In the first four months of this year, export growth was mainly powered by the foreign-funded firms which posted a 15.4 per cent increase to $23.84 billion, Xinhua said. The state-owned enterprises registered only a 7.7 per cent increase in exports to $30.48 billion. It said the rural and private firms reported the fastest growth rate of 35.2 per cent to $1.87 billion. Figures showed that exports to neighbouring countries plunged 9.5 per cent while exports to South Korea fell 24.5 per cent and to Japan 3.1 per cent. Exports to the US climbed 20.6 per cent and to the European Union 29.7 per cent, it said. Mr Chu said growth in trade surplus was expected to slow down significantly this year as imports would pick up partly as a result of Beijing's efforts to stimulate domestic demand. Xinhua said the imports were also expected to pick up after Beijing resumed tax breaks on imports of capital goods by foreign investors. It said imports from the Southeast Asian nations were also on the way up because of the sharp currency devaluations in those countries.