The supply and export of various products - including the city's HK$300 billion re-export trade - will start to slow if the Kwai Tsing dock strike drags on for another week, industrialists say.
Re-exporters are already working on contingency plans, the Federation of Hong Kong Industries said. "Problems will emerge as the strike drags on," deputy chairman Stanley Lau Chin-ho said. "Being complicated by political elements, the strike has turned into a social movement. That makes it more complicated and hard to solve."
Lau said many products passed through Hong Kong before being exported, although they were produced elsewhere - mainly on the mainland. "Some clients like to see the final touches done in Hong Kong, such as packaging, printing and quality control … it reassures them about quality," Lau said.
Products include electronics, clothing, accessories, metal goods and printed materials. Imports of large and heavy items such as cars, machinery and raw materials are also affected.
Video: No bathrooms and 24-hour shifts – the life of a dock workhorse
Contingency plans being considered include sending goods to Shenzhen to ship, arranging for employees to work overtime in case of emergency, and alerting suppliers to stop sending goods for the time being, Lau said.
Total re-exports amounted to HK$300 billion in January, according to government figures.
The main source is the mainland, followed by Japan and Taiwan. The mainland is also the main destination for re-exports, while the United States and Japan rank second and third.
Ringo Lee Yiu-pui, chairman of the Institute of the Motor Industry Association, said there could be a shortage of car parts if the strike lasted much longer.
"Car repair shops usually have stock for one to 1½ months, so the industry will not see any impact yet," he said. "But when [the strike] has dragged on for 15 to 20 days, there will be a shortage." Most parts were shipped to Hong Kong from Germany, Japan and Korea, he said.
Parts more susceptible to wear and tear, such as brake pads, would be the first to run out. He said car dealers would also need to be careful about committing to a delivery date.
General Chamber of Pharmacy chairman Lau Oi-kwok said he could not see any impact on essential products, such as infant milk formula, at the moment, but there could be problems in a month if the strike continued.
The Hospital Authority and Department of Health said there was no shortage of drugs at public hospitals. Society of Hospital Pharmacists president William Chui Chun-ming said most drugs were flown to Hong Kong, so the strike would have little impact.
Commercial sector lawmaker Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung said the terminal would be busier next month as factories began preparing for the peak summer season. He said many were making contingency plans, including switching to Yantian port in Shenzhen. "They won't risk losing clients or paying penalties, so they're making plans to avoid their containers being delayed," he said.