DESPITE a recent slowdown in the growth of exports and some indicators of domestic demand, the Government maintains that economic growth for the year will be 5.5 per cent, but cautions that next year's figure will be lower if the slow-down continues. There were signs towards the end of the third quarter and in October that the growth rate of re-exports to major overseas markets in North America, Europe and China had slowed. As domestic exports declined five per cent in real terms in the third quarter, economists are worried that the economy's growth rate may not reach 5.5 per cent as originally forecast. However, government economist Tang Kwong-yiu argued that the slowdown would be offset by a corresponding reduced growth in imports. The Government has adjusted downward the forecast inflation rate for the year, from nine per cent to 8.5 per cent, in the light of the latest figures. ''I can't see any surge in inflationary pressure. There might be short-term volatility of food prices due to weather conditions, but it would not have any significant impact on the inflation figure for the whole year,'' he said. Import growth has weakened, as indicated by the third-quarter rise of about 16 per cent in real terms, which was less rapid than in the early part of this year and much less than last year, which recorded an annual growth rate of 22.3 per cent. The moderation in import growth could be explained in two ways, he said, ''either because our importers have accumulated enough stock or they have simultaneously adjusted their imports to the slow-down in re-exports and domestic exports''. As a result, the forecast growth rate for imports was adjusted from 16 per cent to 13.6 per cent. ''The retained imports of machinery and equipment will probably continue to be subdued,'' Mr Tang said. But the Government is concerned about the economic prospects for next year. ''If the trend of moderation in re-exports and exports continues, our GDP will be affected,'' he said. How fast re-export growth could pick up again depended on the pace of economic recovery in the American and European markets. ''China's austerity measures might have some impact on Hong Kong but not much,'' he said. That was because most of Hong Kong's exports to China were for outward processing, which was not the target of attack under the austerity programme. However, Mr Tang said a slowdown in trade figures did not necessarily mean a corresponding sluggishness in the territory's economic activities. ''The flow of goods might be slowed down but the financial and service sector do not display any signs of diminishing growth,'' he said.