Ports deal set to give British lines a trading chance

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 April, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 April, 1996, 12:00am

British shipping will enjoy easier terms of trade in China, and a far less discriminatory regime, following a landmark deal initialled between the two countries aimed at normalising relations.

After a long period when British ships were often faced with increased costs, particularly for large container vessels, when putting in at Chinese ports, the agreement will bring bilateral maritime links in line with other Chinese pacts signed with Germany, the Netherlands and France.

Britain's Department of Transport said the deal would remove discriminatory fees at all Chinese ports, where ships are said to have often faced arduous entry requirements, thought to be linked with the sometimes poor Sino-British political relations over Hong Kong.

In addition, permanent permission has been gained to allow British shipping lines to apply to open branch offices in China, and begin marketing their services, an area that was denied to them in the past.

A level playing field has also been introduced for British shipping lines to have access to Chinese cargoes and Chinese ports. This is now to be on the same basis as other foreign lines, allowing British companies the chance to win a greater share of the mainland's growing container trade.

The agreement also changes the terms for the treatment of the vessels and crews of each country, particularly regarding administrative formalities.

Details of the agreement were still patchy yesterday. Ministers from each side have yet to formally sign the deal, but it is understood that it follows a heavy period of industry lobbying, and that it represents significant savings for British ships, and far more equitable access to China, than previously.

'This is a welcome boost for British shipping,' British Shipping minister Lord Goschen said. 'It provides a sound basis for our shipping lines to take advantage of expanding market opportunities in the rapidly developing markets of China and the rest of the Far East.' It emerged that the text of the agreement had been initialled in Beijing two weeks ago, following negotiations between the Chinese Ministry of Communications and the Department of Transport.

As Chinese shipping expands, different countries have sought to participate in its growth and British companies felt they were being excluded.

Late last week, mainland ships were given permission to enter Taiwan ports, in a deal aimed at boosting cargo shipping, and ports around the world are developing links with Chinese ports to enhance future co-operation.

The Port of Singapore Authority recently made its first overseas port investment in China through a joint venture to partly own, develop, manage and operate Dalian's Daoyaowan Container Terminal, and Vancouver Port Corp has signed a sister port agreement with Guangzhou, marking its third in China since 1985.