Taiwan's exports to the mainland in May rose by 114.9 per cent over last year while its exports to Hong Kong fell by 18 per cent, official figures show. Economists were not surprised by the figures. They said the increase reflected the fact more and more Taiwanese businessmen preferred to bypass Hong Kong and trade directly with the mainland. Taiwan's trade with Hong Kong had been affected by the Sars outbreak, with the textile and toy industries suffering the most. A Ministry of Commerce official on the mainland was quoted by the China Times as saying that the mainland had replaced the Untied States as Taiwan's biggest export market. Last year, cross-strait trade stood at US$44.7 billion. Cross-strait trade from January to March this year reached US$12.1 billion, up 39 per cent over the previous year. Exports from Taiwan to the mainland in the first three months of the year totalled US$10.3 billion. Taiwan enjoys a trade surplus of US$8.4 billion, up 36 per cent over the same period last year. Credit Suisse First Boston chief regional economist Tao Dong said the figures confirmed that cross-strait trade was moving gradually but firmly towards direct transactions. He said Hong Kong's role as the profitable go-between would continue to diminish. 'The growth rate is actually not that drastic. Many Taiwan exporters now choose to go directly to China rather than through Hong Kong. 'This is the general trend and you can see it reflected in figures in the past months,'' Mr Tao said. 'Although there is no headline news about direct cargo flights between the two sides, there is a gradual evolution going on.' Mr Tao said the Sars outbreak would have some impact on trade between Taiwan and the mainland, especially in consumer product exports. But he said the full extent of the impact would only be known next month. 'Foreign direct investment would also be affected. Some investors won't put all their eggs in one basket. 'Some investment could flow to Turkey, India or southeast Asia,'' he said.