HONG KONG and Australia have finally agreed to stage talks on a new air services agreement which were delayed after Canberra boosted the rank of its negotiating team. The postponed three-day talks were rescheduled yesterday for October 16 and 17 in Hong Kong. Late last month Australia named the secretary of the Department of Transport, Peter Core, as its new chief negotiator, and said it would not be able to make the previously agreed dates. The move angered the Economic Services Branch and Cathay Pacific Airways, which said a delay could cause travellers anxiety. A Cathay spokesman said yesterday: 'We're obviously pleased that a date has been fixed for the next round of talks, as we're looking for an amicable resolution at the earliest possible opportunity'. The territory's chief negotiator, Economic Services Branch principal assistant secretary for air services negotiations Andrew Pyne, confirmed the new dates but would not comment on the changes in Australia's negotiating team. It was likely Hong Kong's team would remain unchanged, despite Mr Core's high status. His rank was comparable to the Secretary for Economic Services, Gordon Siu. Mr Pyne would lead the discussions with a deputy. 'We're keen to get this show on the road and we certainly wanted to meet in October,' he said. 'It is positive these dates are now confirmed.' It was hoped the talks would put an end to months of wrangling between the sides that had threatened to force a halt on services between the two points from January 1 next year. The territory and Canberra were understood to be further apart now than they were when negotiations began in March. The dispute became public when Cathay said Qantas Airways had reneged on the terms of the existing air services agreement when it picked up too many passengers in Hong Kong and carried them to Singapore and Bangkok.