'It was an across-the-board expansion. We have had reasonable growth both in the external sector as well as in domestic demand and we expect this to continue in the next few months.' Kwok Kwok-chuen Government economist NOT QUITE AND the chart should tell you why there is still reason to hang a question mark over Mr Kwok's confidence that the first-quarter economic figures released on Friday show a broad-based expansion. The red line represents the stated growth rate of gross domestic product, a touch more than 6 per cent year over year for the first three months of this year, which may be down a little from the 7.1 per cent registered in the previous quarter but not enough to matter and is still well above target for the full year. The blue line tells the story, however. Take net trade in goods and services out of the figures and you get a negative figure for the first quarter. The domestic economy contracted by 2.5 per cent. This was also the second quarter of such a contraction. The biggest single reason that the contribution from trade has given us such a boost is that last year saw our trade balance in goods shoot up rapidly from 13 years of deficit to a surplus in the final quarter. The big question here is whether this represented a real ongoing trend or was just one of those anomalous blips you get in GDP performance from time to time and thus does not really mean much. I think there is reason to lean towards the second of these two explanations. Export growth across Asia peaked in summer last year and is now firmly headed down everywhere but in the mainland. We have particular reason for concern in Hong Kong, as garment exports hitherto accounted for more than half of our total domestic exports and are now collapsing with the abolition of quota controls. It is possible that the mainland's continuing high export growth (30 per cent-plus) will still sustain our own export numbers but this is becoming increasingly unlikely. There is good reason to worry that slower trade will bring our GDP growth down over the balance of this year. Mr Kwok should perhaps pay closer attention to this trend. WE PUBLISHED AN interesting headline in our Thursday edition - 'Restrain nationalism, Singapore PM urges'. What? Could Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong really have been telling his people that patriotism is a virtue (vice in my books) they should be careful of taking to excess? Singapore? No, Mr Lee was only sticking his oar into the latest war of words between Beijing and Tokyo over visits by Japanese government officials to a war shrine that also honours war criminals. You wonder why he bothers when Beijing abruptly snapped off the last oar he stuck into its foreign policies by visiting Taiwan. But stop me. Are not both Mr Lee and his father, the Grand Emperor of Singapore, known for warning others not to interfere in Singapore politics? Minatory warnings they have been, too. Beware, beware! Father, of course, was never one to deem this a principle that might go two ways. Just read his autobiography, page after pontificating page on how other countries should run their affairs. Son apparently is of like mind. Here we have a gander that disdains the goose's sauce. IN WEDNESDAY'S COLUMN, I took issue with Professor Hugh Thomas of Chinese University on his view that Hong Kong's low ranking in a study on entrepreneurial activity was 'disquieting' and specifically asked him if some of Shenzhen's high ranking were attributable to Hong Kong entrepreneurs. Here is his reply: 'Cross-border start-ups are in Hong Kong's TEA [total entrepreneurial activity]. A respondent starting a company anywhere is in the TEA. We found cross-border entrepreneurs in Hong Kong but not in Shenzhen. As we reported in last year's study, frequent travellers to Shenzhen are much more entrepreneurial than the rest of the population. TEA for frequent Shenzhen visitors was from 10 to 13 per cent versus about 3 per cent for the total population. 'Our phone survey was conducted on the weekend and on Friday evenings so we missed those Hongkongers who live on the mainland. But if they live there, they are no longer residents of Hong Kong.' Okay, Sir, technically they are not but I still think of them as Hongkongers.