HONG Kong is facing a further slowdown in external trade growth, despite improvement in the US economy and signs the recession has bottomed out elsewhere. The trade figures could contain the first signs of the knock-on effect on Hong Kong of Beijing's attempt to bring the Chinese economy under control. China is now Hong Kong's biggest trading partner in all sectors of the territory's trade, taking over from the US last year in domestic exports for the first time. The recent release of the trade figures for February enabled the first reliable judgment on the likely trend for the year. The trend is far from positive. The two months' figures revealed domestic exports were down 8.1 per cent on the same period last year, compared with a 0.9 per cent decline in the first two months of 1993. For the full 1993 calendar year, domestic exports were down 4.7 per cent in 1992. Re-exports in the first two months of this year were up 13.9 per cent over 1993. This compares with re-export growth in the same two months last year of 25.3 per cent and a growth in the full 1993 year of 19.2 per cent. Hong Kong's overall trade deficit for the first two months of the year was $4.73 billion compared with $4.1 billion in 1993. Ian Perkin is chief economist at the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce. The views expressed in this column may or may not reflect chamber policy.