Hong Kong's massive logistics industry has to act quickly to meet tougher anti-terrorism security measures overseas, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah said yesterday.
The EU and the US are planning tighter regulations for checks on incoming cargoes at departing airports.
There are concerns in the logistics sector - one of the city's traditional pillar industries - about whether the process can be successfully implemented, given the high cargo volume from the southern mainland for shipment out of Hong Kong's airport.
"Rather than rejecting such requirements, I advise the industry to get prepared as soon as possible," wrote Tsang on his blog in response to concerns raised during consultations on his budget speech due next month.
"If Hong Kong businesses are among the first batch of service providers that satisfy these requirements, it is very possible that we can beat other less-prepared rivals," he stated.
Transport sector lawmaker Frankie Yick Chi-ming said he agreed with Tsang's view, but hoped the government would more actively help the sector to address the issue.
"Hong Kong is best known for its efficiency and speed in terms of cargo handling," said Yick. "But our three [cargo terminal operators] do not have the capacity to comply with the proposed requirements at present."
The "air cargo advance screening" regulation implemented in the US last month requires details about the shipper, consignee and cargo to be lodged with the Transportation Security Administration before the cargo is loaded onto the aircraft.
The US authorities plan to extend the advance screening pilot scheme to cover cargo transported on freighter aircraft, and local businessmen expect the law to come into full effect by the middle of next year.
Meanwhile, EU regulation 859, which will take effect from July next year, requires all air cargo shippers and forwarders to be independently validated. Any suspect cargo to Europe will have to be X-rayed before being loaded on to the aircraft.
Yick said the EU regulation could pose a difficulty for local businesses, because many Hong Kong companies own factories in the Pearl River Delta, and the ways through which their products can be validated have yet to be addressed.