Until recently, senior shipping manager Kenneth Kwong was using his typewriter for preparing invoices and purchase orders. Now his company, Milo's Knitwear International, has moved into electronic quota licensing and all that has changed. 'It makes so much difference to the speed and convenience of preparing licence applications,' Milo's managing director, Will Lin, said of the SilkNet package of electronic commerce services. Designed by Tradelink, SilkNet helps companies in the garment and textiles sector handle their trade documents more efficiently. Mr Lin has been a mover behind the introduction of electronic commerce as chairman of the Hong Kong Exporters' Association. 'Its introduction here has been long overdue and Hong Kong needs to catch up pretty fast because we have to find ways to reduce our spiralling shipping costs, which are a serious threat to Hong Kong's competitiveness,' he said. The SilkNet package is primarily related to the Restrained Textiles Export Licence - known as the 'quota licence' or 'blue licence' - and associated transactions. Textiles and garments are Hong Kong's biggest export commodities and the main markets impose some form of quota control. Quota licensing is extremely important in the industry, with Hong Kong's trade integrity riding on it. The present paper licensing system is complex and time consuming. SilkNet allows traders to apply for licences and keep track of their quota usage through a daily electronic balance statement. The benefits are numerous. Error through re-keying is minimised, fee payments are simplified through electronic direct debit and there is no need to send messengers to queue at Trade Department counters. With SilkNet, quota licence applications can be submitted 16 hours a day, seven days a week, instead of the normal office hours offered by the Trade Department. Notification of a licence decision is received a day earlier. In September 1996, a pilot service was put into operation with 65 exporters and manufacturers. Since January 1 the service has been open to all 7,000 current textile and garment traders. During the coming months, Tradelink plans to add other transactions to the service. These include carrier notification, via copy and quota swing/transfer. The SilkNet portfolio will also include an electronic service for certificates of origin, which like trade declarations are used by both textile and non- textile traders. 'The quota licence and trade declarations are a very good start, but I'd like to see other services added as quickly as possible so that more traders are encouraged to use it,' Mr Lin said.