Hong Kong's small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have received a HK$160 million funding boost from the Export Credit Insurance Corp (ECIC). Unveiling interim results for the six months to September 30, which showed a 19 per cent rise in total insured business, ECIC commissioner Thomas Yiu said yesterday the corporation's SME financing scheme had also shown strong growth. To extend its support for SMEs, the corporation had jointly launched with banks a finance scheme for the sector from May this year, Mr Yiu said. The scheme allowed SMEs to acquire export finance from the 47 financial institutions who signed up by assigning their bankers as the beneficiaries of any claims which may be made on their ECIC insurance policies. This meant the financiers were able to advance loans without requiring other forms of collateral security, Mr Yiu said. 'We are pleased to learn from our policyholders and exporters that this latest co-operation between ourselves and the banking sector greatly increased their financing opportunities while at the same time boosting their confidence in extending credit to their overseas buyers,' he said. Mr Yiu said he was unable to say precisely how much banks had lent under the scheme but ECIC credit limits provided for exporters seeking loans amounted to HK$160 million. 'So we must assume that lending was above this amount,' he said. Founded in 1966 to provide export credit insurance to protect Hong Kong exporters against risks of non-payment, ECIC is owned by the Government, which guarantees its liabilities up to a maximum of HK$10 billion. Total insured business amounted to HK$13.77 billion over the six-month period to September 30, Mr Yiu said, up from HK$11.61 billion in the previous period. Premiums, set at 0.5 per cent of export value, had generated a 13 to 14 per cent increase in revenue. The ECIC data showed a continued sharp rise in external trade, and for the first time its value exceeded that of insured domestic exports. For the first half year, insured value of external trade (exports made by Hong Kong manufacturers from offshore locations), stood at HK$2.91 billion, from HK$1.99 billion previously; compared with insured domestic exports of HK$2.8 billion, down from HK$2.88 billion previously. Insured re-exports remained the single biggest component, at HK$7.87 billion (HK$6.54 billion previously). 'I am delighted by these steadily improving figures and the positive business sentiment in Hong Kong that they reflect. The bulk of the manufacturing operations of Hong Kong business is already located outside Hong Kong,' Mr Yiu said. 'Although the amount of re-exports through Hong Kong continues to grow, more and more exporters are shipping their goods directly from the place of manufacture to overseas markets - hence the rapid growth of external trade.' The entry of China into the World Trade Organisation was likely to accelerate this trend, he added. The ECIC data showed the top three insured export markets for the six months were the United States, Britain and Germany, which had recorded respective growth rates of 18 per cent, 16 per cent, and 20 per cent. Exports to Japan and China, the next two markets in terms of insured value, had grown 54 per cent and 25 per cent respectively. Claims paid during the period increased by 9 per cent to HK$23.8 million, and in line with the previous reporting period, 35 per cent of all claims were paid as a result of insolvency, while default claims accounted for the remainder.