United States-based APL and Taiwan's Wan Hai Line will launch a joint, dedicated intra-Asia service on November 26 to link Tokyo with Indonesia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Hong Kong. APL will operate one 1,000-teu (20-ft equivalent unit) vessel while Wan Hai will provide three similar-capacity container vessels. Torey Presti, APL vice-president of intra-Asia services, said both carriers had a fixed allocation of slots to serve individual customers. The port rotation will cover Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Kobe, Keelung, Hong Kong, Manila, Surabaya, Jakarta, Kaohsiung and Hong Kong before returning to Tokyo. 'This service is being launched to meet the special needs of our customers and is tailor-made for the intra-Asia trade,' Mr Presti said. This service will supplement another intra-Asia container service, which was introduced earlier this year, linking Japan with Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Mr Presti said the intra-Asia trade was estimated to grow about 8 per cent this year and he expected a 'few bumps' in the Southeast Asian trade next year. 'While economies take a bit of a breather, they might record about 5 per cent growth next year,' he said, adding that he was confident the Southeast Asian economies eventually would get back on track. APL's strengths lay in its direct service, competitive rates and speedier release of bills of lading, he added. Mr Presti said none of the deep-sea carriers, which only set their sights on the Europe and US markets, had looked at the intra-Asia trade closely enough to start a dedicated service in the market. He said the intra-Asia market was quite big as it involved about six million teus a year. The new APL service, known as intra-Asia Express II, would serve the southern China market through Hong Kong, Mr Presti said. He said the market had become highly sophisticated and demanded dedicated service and reliability, especially when the new 5,000-to-6,000-teu vessels could afford to spend only limited time in any port. Mr Presti said although this service probably was being started at a bad time due to the regional financial crisis, he was confident Asia's economies eventually would recover. 'And when they do, we will be there,' he said. Mr Presti said APL would take advantage of its new owner Neptune Orient Lines' strong intra-Asian ties to gain more business. 'We are positioning ourselves because we need to maintain our presence in the intra-Asia trade,' he said. APL's customers such as Nike, Sony and Matsushita had long-term commitments in the region and APL had to support them, he added. Mr Presti said despite the currency crisis in Asia, domestic trade in the region would continue to grow. Electronic companies in Japan, for example, were sending parts to be produced in Indonesia and importing them back to assemble the whole unit, he said. Mr Presti said Manila and Surabaya were entirely new markets for APL. 'We will also call at Keelung in Taiwan, where we have not been calling since six years ago on the transPacific service,' he said.