FREIGHT forwarder Kuehne & Nagel is to enter the warehousing and distribution business in Asia, a company spokesman said. 'Trade fields which have already been successfully ploughed in Europe are becoming more important in the Far East as well,' said Klause Herms, head of Kuehne & Nagel's Far East operation. But Mr Herms added: 'Any newcomer is likely to have a difficult start. 'This is true not only for China but for all countries in the region.' Kuehne & Nagel has a presence in several Asian countries, but its mainstay in the region has been the conventional forwarding business, which is growing. The group has subsidiaries and joint ventures in Hong Kong, Australia, India, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand, employing more than 1,325 people. Last year, 44 per cent of its total business was attributable to air freight and 38 per cent to sea freight. Core Asian growth was attributable to Hong Kong, where Kuehne & Nagel profited from China's export boom. Mr Herms was convinced that 'Hong Kong will continue to play a pivotal role in the Far East trade in the future', adding that this role would not change after the territory's handover to China in 1997. He said Hong Kong's importance in the market was understood in China. Despite all the hopes put on China's fast-expanding markets, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan were still of major significance for the forwarding business in the Far East, Mr Herms said. Apart from these market leaders, countries such as Vietnam, Thailand and India were becoming increasingly attractive because of the relocation of labour-intensive production. As a result, intra-Asia trade had boomed, he said. '[The] intra-Asia market has already become the largest single trade market in the world,' he said. 'There are more containers being shipped around the region than between the Far East and North America.' Kuehne & Nagel is already present in the air freight market. 'Getting involved in sea freight business is much more difficult owing to the dominance of local forwarding companies,' he said. 'All major carriers operate here, and since there are always empty boxes on board, they quote rates which are often just a few dollars above the handing costs.'