The mining investment boom has helped build the capacity to ramp up exports, resulting in another large trade surplus in February.

A federal government agency believes a key component of Australia’s balance of payments could be heading towards a surplus for the first time in nearly four decades.

Australia posted a third consecutive monthly goods and services trade surplus in February, and at $1.2 billion was just shy of the $1.4 billion surplus in January, the highest in nearly two and a half years, new data on Thursday showed.

Export Finance & Insurance Corporation – the government agency that assists Australian companies in their international activities – said export values have surged in recent months.

“The trade balance is likely to continue in surplus as the Australian resource boom moves from the investment to the export phase,” EFIC senior economist Cassandra Winzenried said in its latest survey of export developments.

She said this was fuelling speculation that a current account surplus may emerge, the first since 1975.

The current account – which includes goods and services trade, as well as foreign earnings and payments – showed its smallest deficit in just over two years in the December quarter 2013, but at $10 billion there was still some way go to a surplus.

Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens told a Brisbane conference that while the investment in mining sector may have peaked, the capacity put in place is supporting strong growth in exports.

EFIC’s latest survey found 94 per cent of small and medium sized exporters expect export sales to increase or remain the same over the next 12 months.

This was despite economic uncertainties in China – Australia’s largest trading partner – a sluggish world economy and a still strong Australian dollar.

China announced a set of steps on Thursday to boost slowing growth, including extending tax breaks for small businesses and support measures for poor urban districts.

International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde told a conference on Wednesday that while the global economy is turning the corner, overall growth remains too slow.

She warned the cost of continued sluggish growth is high – modest income gains and only gradual reductions in unemployment.

“The risk is that without sufficient policy ambition, the world could fall into a medium-term low growth trap,” she said.

Governor Stevens will be heading to a G20 finance ministers and central bankers meeting in Washington next week, when the IMF and World Bank spring meetings are also held.

He reminded the American Chamber of Commerce (Queensland) AmCham iiNet business lunch that under Australia’s presidency, finance ministers at February’s G20 Sydney meeting agreed to lift collective economic growth by an extra two per cent over the next five years.

“This goal is not to be achieved by clever programs of cheap money devised by central banks. Nor is it to be the result of fiscal adventurism,” he said.

“No one has ever achieved growth simply by austerity.”

Meanwhile, retail spending clocked up a 10th month of consecutive growth, rising 0.2 per cent in February to just shy of $23 billion