Following a rise to a record high last year, the mainland's trade surplus is expected to surge further this year, with a 42.8 per cent increase on 2006, forecasters say. If realised, the prediction would take the surplus past US$250 billion, 2? times the figure recorded two years ago. The surplus will climb to US$254.03 billion from the record US$177.5 billion last year, although exports might grow less rapidly, says a forecasting agency of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The prediction would represent a slowdown in the growth rate from the 74.19 per cent rise between 2005 and last year. Exports, one of the main drivers behind the robust 11.1 per cent growth in the economy in the first quarter, will reach US$1.2 trillion this year, up 23.7 per cent, compared with a rise of 27.2 per cent last year. Imports would total US$946 billion, up 19.5 per cent from the previous year, Xinhua yesterday quoted the academy saying. The surplus with the US is tipped to rise by 23.5 per cent to US$178.2 billion this year, with exports totalling U$263.6 billion, up 29.8 per cent from the previous year. The European Union will be the second-largest source of the mainland's trade surplus, with a US$128.3 billion trade gap. Exports to Europe are forecast to total US$239.3 billion and imports US$111 billion. The mainland's trade surplus for the first quarter almost doubled year on year, deepening friction with its western trading partners, particularly the US, which recently took complaints against Beijing to the WTO. The surplus widened to US$46.4 billion, from US$23.3 billion a year earlier in the first quarter, according to figures from the General Administration of Customs. Soon after China announced its 2005 surplus, US Trade Representative Rob Portman said: 'Popular support for a 25-year-old trade policy of constructive economic engagement with China could be in danger.'