Gold imports in the first quarter this year rose 20 per cent compared with the corresponding period last year, due partly to the Asian financial turmoil. Raymond Chan Fat-chu, who was re-elected president of the Chinese Gold & Silver Exchange Society yesterday, said first-quarter imports reached 150.5 tonnes, of which 23 tonnes came from Southeast Asian countries. 'Southeast Asian countries are suffering from the turmoil and many individuals are selling gold to get cash,' he said. 'Much of this is coming to Hong Kong, being refined as gold bars and then exported to the United States and European markets,' he said. 'It shows the Asian turmoil will not affect Hong Kong's position as one of the major gold trading centres in the world.' He said this year, gold imports should exceed last year's 434.8 tonnes. Local gold prices dropped to $2,581 per tael in January, the lowest since 1983. Prices recently rebounded to $2,637 per tael. Mr Chan said future gold prices would depend on gold reserve weightings held by the European Central Bank when the euro is launched. He said if the weighting of gold is set at below 10 per cent of total reserves, it would lead central banks to sell gold reserves, which would lead to a further decline in gold prices.