Hopes rose yesterday that direct cross-Taiwan Strait shipping would soon begin following an agreement between private shipping associations on Taiwan and the mainland to resume consultations later this month. Representatives of the Taiwan-based Cross-Strait Shipping Association and mainland-based Cross-Strait Shipping Exchange Association would meet in Hong Kong on January 22 to discuss details of starting up cross-strait cargo services, Taiwan's Commercial Times newspaper reported yesterday. Transport Ministry officials from each side of the strait have also agreed to take part, as 'advisers', according to the report. Hsieh Ming-huei , head of the Navigation and Aviation Department at Taipei's Transportation and Communications Ministry, and Hu Hanxiang , head of the Water Transport Department at Beijing's Ministry of Communications, will sit in on the discussions between the private companies. Officials in Taiwan remained silent on the report yesterday, but a Ministry of Communications official in Beijing confirmed that there were plans to hold the meeting. Taipei has banned direct cross-strait links since the fall, in 1949, of mainland China to communist forces. But in May 1995, Taiwan's Transportation and Communications Ministry announced it would permit limited cargo trans-shipment services between the mainland and the Taiwan port of Kaohsiung. A high-level Taipei source said Beijing was keen to start up the trans-shipment services, as facilities in Hong Kong were already overloaded. An initial round of unofficial discussions was held in Hong Kong in June 1995, but the second planned meeting had to be put off following the downturn in relations between Beijing and Taipei after Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui's trip to the United States. However, a gentle warming in the relationship appeared in August when Beijing announced a set of rules permitting direct shipping links across the strait, via the Fujian ports of Fuzhou and Xiamen. Differences still remain over fees for the services and whether foreign shippers should be allowed to take part.