The government-owned Hong Kong Export Credit Insurance Corporation (ECIC) has blamed the Sars outbreak earlier this year for its modest increase in business during the past six months. ECIC provided cover for exports worth $14.9 billion for the six months to September, up 4.6 per cent compared with a year earlier. ECIC commissioner Chueng Kam-kay said the past six months had been difficult because of Sars. 'During the outbreak of Sars, between March and May, there were almost no overseas buyers coming to Hong Kong to negotiate trade with the local exporters. Many small- and medium-sized exporters were hard hit,'' Mr Cheung said. The ECIC provides credit insurance cover for local exporters, compensating them when buyers fail or delay payments for four months. Mr Cheung said exports in the April-to-June quarter were normal as exporters were delivering goods for contracts they made earlier in the year. However, exports were down in the third quarter because of Sars. Mr Cheung said the worst was over and the upcoming quarter would record stronger growth.