Food safety has become the latest form of protectionism employed by the mainland's major trading partners to halt flows of mainland imports, analysts said. The past two months have seen the mainland hit hard by food safety scares, with export goods ranging from toothpaste to seafood pulled from shelves or rejected by customs agencies in North America, South America, Europe and Asia. Food authorities around the globe have been busy issuing health and safety warnings against goods made in the mainland, but that did not stop mainland exports growing 27.1 per cent year on year, last month. That pushed the trade surplus to a monthly record of US$26.9 billion - a whopping increase of 85 per cent from the same period last year - according to data from the General Administration of Customs. 'While high safety standards aim to protect the health of citizens, they can also be used for protectionist ends to block trade,' said Zhu Mingxia , a professor at the University of International Economics and Trade, in Beijing. The mainland's major trading partners had been left with few choices to slow the rising flow of cheap goods into their domestic markets. That's because the mainland, as a member of the World Trade Organisation, was protected from more direct protectionist measures such as import tariffs and trade quotas. Barriers to trade, such as technical regulations and product standards, had become almost the only remaining option for governments seeking more protection, Professor Zhu said. 'A technical barrier like food safety standards can work as a very potent way of protecting the domestic market because it's very convincing for consumers, for whom health and safety are often top priorities,' she said. The Ministry of Commerce said last week that technical barriers imposed by some trading partners cost mainland exporters US$75.8 billion last year, an increase of 9.7 per cent from 2005. Beijing has been scrambling to implement a host of initiatives in a bid to restore consumer confidence in its exports. At the same time it has been imposing its own bans on some foreign goods - the latest being US meat products - for failing to meet domestic safety standards. 'Food safety can easily act as a disguised form of trade barrier,' said International Trade Institute director Tang Yihong . 'It can become a new source of trade tension between China and its trading partners in the coming years.' On Wednesday, Beijing and Washington agreed to meet at the end of this month to discuss a mechanism for resolving the escalating food-safety disputes. Professor Zhu said Beijing was likely to make some compromises because the potential losses in agricultural trade would be too great to ignore.