Accept the inevitable: HK's days of bustling port traffic are over

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 July, 2010, 12:00am

[Hong Kong Container Terminal Operators] Association Alan Lee said a shipping minister was needed to tackle long-standing issues that threatened the port's competitiveness in relation to others in the south.

SCMP, July 17

But first we need a pots and pans minister. The pots and pans industry used to be one of the foundations of Hong Kong's economy and look at it now, gone, just vanished.

And do you know why? It is because the government neglected it by not appointing a pots and pans minister. If only we had had a pots and pans minister to tackle long-standing issues that threatened the industry's competitiveness in relation to others in the south we might still have a pots and pans industry today. It's a crying shame, that's what it is.

But maybe we could have the industry back. Maybe we could spend all day long bashing out pots and pans again. All we need is a minister. Get with it, Donald.

While we're at it, we are also way past due for a plastic soldiers minister. That's another industry gone and the only possible reason is the lack of a minister for it. What other reason could there be?

Think also of the tragedy we have suffered by not having a garments minister. It's a scandal. Someone should be made to pay for this gross negligence.

The first chart should set the port business into proper perspective. Only 12 years ago our port still handled almost three times as much import and export cargo as the ports of Shenzhen. That relative standing has now been reversed. Shenzhen now handles three times as much as Hong Kong.

It is only natural that things should be this way. The port serves a manufacturing industry that has entirely moved to the mainland. What sense does it make to truck cargo through a congested border and roadways to Kwai Chung when there are ports nearer at hand on the other side of the border and fewer grasping hands stretched out for pay-offs along the way?

Perhaps some people ought to be told that things have changed since the 1970s when the first berths were built at Kwai Chung to serve a manufacturing industry that had become the backbone of Hong Kong's economy. Shenzhen? Shen-what? Oh, you mean those vegetable gardens across the border, do you?

Yes, things change and these changes have had the implications for the port. We have outgrown it and it has outgrown us. The port business was a phase of Hong Kong's history and that phase is coming to an end, just as it has come to an end for London and New York. Both cities still thrive. It is not a fatal loss. It also won't be for Hong Kong.

We resist the change strenuously, however. The second chart shows you how much of our port's traffic has come to depend on transshipment rather than on direct export/import trade.

It's all just make-show to prop up the numbers on container throughput and keep up the pretence. These transshipment containers are also the ones that stay the longest at our port, which just puts more pressure on our scarce supply of available land.

But does that induce the port operators to concede that we should do less transshipment? No, of course not, don't be stupid. What they demand is more land to be made available for transshipment. This is after their lobby has pillaged the public purse for costly roads and bridges to serve the port, all of it infrastructure that is already underused and will only become more so.

It is time to look reality in the face. Our port business is dwindling and will continue to do so for good and obvious reasons. There is nothing we can do to prevent it and our defiance of this reality can only result in the wastage of much public treasure.

But if we wish to persist in this silliness, well, why not have a pots and pans minister, too.