Freight forwarder Kuehne & Nagel plans to double its Asia Pacific operations within the next three to four years, according to a company director. Asia Pacific sales and marketing director Claus Czisla said he was confident of achieving the expansion target based on the 20-25 per cent growth of the company since 1995. 'In certain areas we had much higher growth, like the air freight sector which had 25-30 per cent growth,' Mr Czisla said. The company, which has eight offices in India, wants to increase that number to 15 in the next 18 to 24 months. Mr Czisla said the Indian market was better than China's due to its 100-150 million-strong middle class, which had greater purchasing power than the Chinese counterparts. While the mainland market was huge, the population could not afford to buy as many personal computers as the Indian market, he said. 'We see the Indian market, first of all opening up and having more imports and exports,' Mr Czisla said. Another attraction is that India allows foreign freight forwarders to own 100 per cent of the business while China still has restrictions, allowing domestic freight forwarding companies like Sinotrans and Panavico to control the bulk of the business. Foreign freight forwarders like Kuehne & Nagel hope the mainland will be forced to open up the sector as part of its efforts to join the World Trade Organisation. While India looked attractive, its infrastructure was lacking and needed improvement, Mr Czisla said. Kuehne & Nagel planned to invest in warehousing and container trucking in areas where infrastructure was lacking, he said. The company was planning to expand in India because several of its customers, especially those in the automotive industry - including General Motors and Mercedes Benz - were moving there and wanted Kuehne & Nagel's services, Mr Czisla said. Ford, which also planned to start operations in India, wants to implement the just-in-time concept, he said. From May 1, Kuehne & Nagel is to establish its own office in Bangladesh to handle its business, instead of employing an agent. Mr Czisla said the company then could instal its own software and computer systems, linking the office to others in the region through a unified system. In Pakistan, the company plans to open two offices in the third quarter of this year to support customers who have moved manufacturing facilities to the country. Kuehne & Nagel has faced high management costs in New Zealand due to its small operations. In a move to control costs and enjoy better economies of scale, the company has decided to acquire a customs broker in the second quarter of the year, Mr Czisla said. In Hong Kong, the operation is not expected to change after the territory reverts to Chinese rule. 'I see no substitute for Hong Kong in the mid-term, and even after Shanghai is developed in the future, it would only be able to handle up to 2.5 million teus (20 ft equivalent units),' he said. Yantian, Shekou and Chiwan ports also were expected to complement Hong Kong, the world's busiest container port which handled 13.4 million teus last year. 'I don't have too many fears about the future of Hong Kong, although many have different ideas,' Mr Czisla said.