Far-sighted proposal works well on paper

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 November, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 November, 1995, 12:00am

BACK in 1990 the Government published a report called SPEDI.

It wasn't necessarily the most explosive document ever issued - it was about Electronic Data Interchange, which is simply the replacement of lots of bits of paper with computer messages.

SPEDI said that a system called Tradelink, a venture between government and private sectors, should be set up.

Many people think EDI is a Good Thing - less trees get chopped down, businesses save time and money, people who were previously paid money to run around with bundles of documents can be paid to do something more useful, and the space soaked up by documents can be used for other things - like growing trees for instance.

But here we are at the end of 1995 and where is Tradelink? Governor Christopher Patten wants to see it in action. He has mentioned it in two policy addresses.

Things mentioned in the Address are supposed to get done in the year they were mentioned.

But nothing has happened in five years. In the meantime, two other bodies have popped up - Cargonet, which aims to automate shipping documents, and EZ*Trade which is for retailers and might soon mean that we will be free of the need to wander around supermarkets.

Originally, Tradelink was going to be a seamless service for exporters. The many different shipping documents carried by truckers on their way to Kwai Chung would disappear, the Government textile quota documents would go, and so would the Trade Declaration document.

Who could possibly be against such an eminently sensible move towards efficiency and progress? Why would anyone want it to take four days for a Trade Deceleration document to clear the system instead of a few hours? Part of the problem is the Government getting cold feet about business directly accessing all the secrets lurking in its computers.

An extra layer is now to be used to separate Tradelink from the Trade Department.

Part of the problem is the Customs and Excise Department. This lot like the long wait because it means they can check the contents of containers and check back to the factory to make sure goods really are what they say they are, or that they are really made in Hong Kong.

Then there's another problem. All the people carrying bits of paper around wouldn't be needed anymore. They might be out of work. Politically unacceptable.

While Hong Kong is left in the Trade Dark Age, the rest of Asia is rushing into the future. Singapore has an excellent system called Tradenet. Malaysia has EDIMalaysia, Taiwan has Tradevan and Korea has KTNet.

So what does SPEDI stand for? Slow Progress to EDI, of course.

Mark time MARK Mobius is mad, and he's not going to take it anymore. He's getting tough over privatisations at East Asiatic and Ming Pao.

And you better believe it's a good idea to listen when Mark gets angry.

Our mole tells us that he recently had a problem with a company in Turkey where he'd made a substantial investment for his clients.

He decided the directors were pillaging the company and generally making a monkey out of him.

He wrote to the Turkish Prime Minister.

He got a reply back on the lines of: 'We're sorry. The directors are now in jail. Normal Service will be resumed as soon as possible.' Now there's a thing for for local tycoons to ponder.

Jam session NEO-ZEN koan of the day comes from a chap on the high seas, one of a still select group who have noticed that Lai See has gone wired, not to say weird, and now has an E-Mail address.

How come orange jam is called marmalade? Wire your weird wisdom to laiseeaSE: mp.com Fatal blow? PANIC! Panic! The Hang Seng All Ordinaries has sent a massive feng shui sell signal to the market - it closed yesterday at the worrying level of 4,444.08 points. For Cantonese speakers that's like saying Death, Death, Death, Death.