Government wary of opening door on CT9

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 February, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 February, 1993, 12:00am

COMMENTS from the Sea-Land Orient Terminals camp on taking the wrangle over container Terminal 9 (CT9) into the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group are unlikely to be welcomed by the Hongkong Government.

They may, however, be better appreciated by other CT9 hopefuls, despite the official silence of Sea-Land's peers on the matter.

Shipping industry figures, based on a 14.7 growth rate average over the past five years, indicate Hongkong's container throughput demand could outstrip handling capacity after mid-1995 if the first of four CT9 berths is not fully operational.

Failure to act quickly in response risks damage to Hongkong port's future competitiveness.

The Hongkong Government dithered when deciding which powerful consortium to favour with a CT9 go-ahead.

Then, when it decided to split the four new berths between two rival groups, Tsing Yi Consortium and Hongkong International Terminals/Modern Terminals, it found a compromise that added more obstacles and time to the planning process.

And now China, apparently more concerned with playing politics than port development, has nobbled the project with its late November comments that it will not honour CT9 contracts arranged by the Hongkong Government.

While jurists discuss the finer points of China's incendiary comments within the context of their relevance to the Sino-British Joint Declaration, bankers are unlikely to lend money to a project mired in a political dispute.

Nor is a company that sees a bright future for itself in Hongkong after 1997 likely to accept a land grant from the Hongkong Government that might be frowned upon by the mainland.

A bottom-line pragmatist would argue that China effectively controls the destiny of CT9 now - so let the mainland give it an official rubber stamp. An export-oriented China should be as committed to future port efficiency as Hongkong operators will be.

However, the Government believes concessions over CT9 will give China veto power over a land deal it has already negotiated. It fears such a precedent could open the door to several new brands of destabilising contract revisionism.