DESPITE opposition from shipping lines, shippers and truckers, three of the four container terminal operators at Kwai Chung are determined to impose a gate charge of $100 per container. According to the Hong Kong Container Port Operators Association, deferring the implementation of the gate charge 'reflects our determination to find a solution which is acceptable to all parties concerned.' The charge on loaded containers entering and leaving the terminals was scheduled to come into effect today. The association comprises Hong Kong International Terminals (HIT), COSCO-HIT and Sea-Land Orient Terminals. Modern Terminals is not a member of the association. The group is willing to explain to shippers, truckers and legislators the need for the charge. 'We hope to find an agreeable solution to this issue soon,' said Ed Aldridge, Sea-Land's vice president for Central Asia. He said the decision to implement a gate charge was taken after extensive discussions since 1990. The association reiterated that the gate charge would be paid by shippers and consignees and was not aimed at truck operators. He said the association members had spent about $1.8 billion over the past two years to improve service and efficiency. A truck driver now spent less than 30 minutes in the terminal to pick up or deliver a container, compared with 90 minutes before. Mr Aldridge said operating costs at container terminals had risen significantly above the consumer price index over the past decade. Yet tariff increases of terminal operators had lagged for behind the inflation rate. If Hong Kong was to maintain its position as the world's leading container port, cost increases must not be allowed to impinge on the quality of service and efficiency of container terminals. Mr Aldridge said Hong Kong was not the only port to introduce a gate charge. Other leading terminals, such as Singapore, also levy similar charges. Shippers claimed Hong Kong's terminal charges were already the highest in Asia and that the surcharges were not justified. 'If they can introduce a gate charge this year, they can introduce a cleaning charge next year and a peak hour charge later,' said Clement Yeung, executive director of the Hong Kong Shippers' Council.