Hong Kong's exports suffered their biggest year-on-year decline in value in half a century last month, plunging 21.8 per cent to HK$187.8 billion as international trade dried up amid the deepening global downturn, government data shows. January's imports fared no better, falling 27.1 per cent to HK$180.5 billion. In December, exports decreased 11.4 per cent while imports fell 16.2 per cent. The last time Hong Kong's trade performance recorded such steep deterioration was in March 1958, when exports shrank 22.4 per cent. In September 1967, imports dropped 36.6 per cent. World trade was affected by a sharp US recession in 1958 and slowing economic activity in 1966 and 1967. A government spokesman said that while January's data was distorted by the Lunar New Year, it was clear the global economic crisis had severely affected Hong Kong's trade. 'The short-term trade outlook is not promising, as many of Hong Kong's major markets are now deep in recession and the global financial crisis is still evolving,' he said. David O'Rear, chief economist at the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, warned of more negative news to come and that the recession was 'a whole lot more serious'. Amid one of the worst global recessions in history, people are buying fewer toys for their children, replacing household appliances less often and cutting back where they can. The slump in demand has seen a rapid deterioration in exports from Hong Kong and the region. Exports dropped significantly to Taiwan, the mainland, Thailand and South Korea, which all fell more than 30 per cent. Exports to the US shrank 7 per cent. Exports of electrical machinery, telecommunications equipment and office machinery all fell by more than 20 per cent. Economic growth across emerging Asia is expected to ease to 5.7 per cent this year, according to projections by the Manila-based Asian Development Bank. This is down from an estimated 6.9 per cent last year and 9 per cent in 2007. The region's sharp slowdown highlights the need to reduce its heavy reliance on exports to drive growth. The bank's chief economist, Jong-wha Lee, said growth prospects had soured significantly for emerging Asia, which includes the mainland, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.