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Hong Kong will continue to act as a free port and transshipment center in boosting trade with the Chinese mainland as the nation's economic transformation, industrial upgrading and global recovery drive demand, an expert said.

Hong Kong's export performance saw a solid rebound in the first four months of this year, surging 9.4 percent year-on-year, following a 0.5 percent fall for all of 2016.

Shipments to the mainland were up 10.3 percent year-on-year during the four months, according to the "2017 Mid-Year Export Assessment" released by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) on Tuesday.

"Hong Kong mainly transfers commodities from other countries to the mainland and (uses its local advantages in) services in such sectors as finance, architecture and law" in dealing with the mainland, Nicholas Kwan, director of research with the HKTDC, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

With China's economic transformation advancing, the mainland's consumption market is playing a bigger role in boosting mutual trade in terms of the mainland's imports that pass through Hong Kong, Kwan said.

"Previously, the driving force of the mainland's imports was the need to import items for processing" and the final products were re-exported, but the situation has changed, he added.

Hong Kong's imports from the mainland increased by 7.5 percent in the first four months year-on-year, Kwan said, citing his agency's research.

"Hong Kong is reliant on imports of fresh products such as food from the mainland," Kwan said, noting that the city lacks agricultural resources, water and power.

"We are grateful for the support of the mainland under the policy of 'one country, two systems', which is really vital for the development of Hong Kong," Kwan noted.

"We also import some high-end products such as mobile phones and machinery from the mainland as well as some services related to trade and tourism," he added.

Total mainland-Hong Kong trade declined 1 percent in the first four months compared with the same period in 2016, data from China's General Administration of Customs showed in May.

The mainland's customs data "is different from ours due to different statistical methods," Kwan explained.

"The mainland's commodities are included in our import data as long as they are shipped via Hong Kong, while the (mainland's) customs data will omit this part and count it according to the destination country," he said.

When it comes to the setting up of free trade zones in the mainland, Kwan said.

"We pretty much welcome more such zones to be established, which will mean more communication and business cooperation opportunities," he noted.

Unlike Hong Kong's status as a free port, these zones are more focused on the freedom of commodity trade, according to Kwan.

There is more scope for opening for the service trade, he said.