The Government has threatened to introduce legislation to resolve a dispute between shipping lines and shippers over increases in terminal handling charges this year. Port and Maritime Board (PMB) secretary Richard Yuen Ming-fai, who is also deputy economic services secretary, said however, the Government would resort to legislation only as a last resort if carriers refused to consult with shippers before introducing higher charges. 'We are merely asking for reasonableness from the shipping lines,' Mr Yuen said. Shipping lines had a duty to explain why the charges had to be increased and how the figures were arrived at, Mr Yuen said. The Hong Kong Liner Shipping Association (HKLSA) recently warned it would strongly oppose any Government intervention in an industry dispute over the charges. The Government would also look at all other options that were available to resolve the dispute, Mr Yuen said. In May, shippers and industrialists appealed to the Government over sharp rises in fees and charges levied by shipping lines. The Hong Kong Shippers' Council and nine organisations, headed by the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, complained that handling charges for intra-Asia trade had risen 20 per cent. They said that, besides the increases in handling charges, carriers had also increased ocean-freight rates to compensate for a drop in southbound trade within Asia, and had imposed various freight rates to make up for a trade imbalance on Asia-Europe and trans-Pacific routes. Exports from Asia have surged this year while imports have declined, leading to a severe shortage of containers in Asia. Carriers claimed they had no choice but to increase the handling charges, as they had to pay charges for bringing empty containers to meet the shortage. Mr Yuen said the Government, responding to shipper complaints, was not trying to intervene in this dispute but merely wanted to see both sides work out an answer to the problem. 'We want to see the shippers and HKLSA sit down together and increase communications, and through market forces reach an acceptable solution,' he said. The Government's role was to see that the market forces worked, he added. Hong Kong's terminal handling charges are much higher than in many parts of the world, if not the highest. Mr Yuen said the Government was trying to soothe the grievances of the shippers as the charges added to exporters' costs. If sufficient notice were given, exporters could factor the cost into contracts, usually worked out months ahead of delivery.