The Taiwanese economy grew just 4.83 per cent last year as the Asian financial crisis choked investment and demand. This year's climate looks set to remain congested, with full-year growth projected at a slow 4.74 per cent, the official statistics agency said. Wei Duan, head of the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics agency, attributed the slower growth prospects mostly to the 'far graver than expected impact from the Asian financial crisis' on global markets and Taiwan's trade-oriented economy. Mr Wei said weakening private capital investment and exports held real gross domestic product growth down to 3.71 per cent in last year's fourth quarter. 'Private fixed-capital investment growth fell 3.84 per cent in real terms in the fourth quarter as some individual companies experienced financial difficulties and curbed investments,' Mr Wei said. Private capital investments grew 11.89 per cent last year. The island's exports sank 9.7 per cent last year, while imports fell 8.5 per cent. Last year's GDP growth was Taiwan's smallest rise since 1982. Mr Wei said similar trends will limit expansion in the first half with real GDP growth of only 3.7 per cent forecast in the first quarter and 4.01 per cent in the second quarter. Mr Wei said that private capital investment would expand by a modest 7.6 per cent this year, with the main boost coming from infrastructure projects, including NT$40 billion (about HK$9.60 billion) from the high-speed railway, NT$40 billion in private-sector telecommunications investments and NT$17 billion in independent power generation projects. But Mr Wei said the economic growth rate could be reduced by 0.5 percentage points if the work on the high-speed rail link failed to begin this year. The agency forecast is also based on expectations that the government's programme to expand domestic demand will be realised and add up to NT$60 billion in public-sector investments. Mr Wei also said exports would return to positive growth this year as neighbouring economies recovered. For this year, the agency forecasts a 2 per cent recovery in exports to US$112.9 billion and 0.9 per cent rise in imports to US$105.7 billion. Inflation-adjusted private spending would slow to 5.9 per cent this year from 7.1 per cent last year, which had included a boost from the liberalisation of the mobile-phone market, Mr Wei said.