An academic at the City University of Hong Kong says more emphasis should be placed on developing Chek Lap Kok into a domestic air-cargo hub for China. While very little cargo traffic in China was moved by air at present, the increasing sophistication of mainland exports meant certain growth prospects, Zhang Anming, a professor of economics at the university said. Speaking at an open forum on the Hong Kong air-cargo industry recently, Mr Zhang said the development of China's inland cities as manufacturing centres would help spur air-cargo traffic growth. 'There is evidence that manufacturers are moving further inland from the coastal cities of Guangzhou and Shanghai in the search for lower costs,' he said. 'So it is crucial to determine how Hong Kong can secure air-cargo rights to service traffic needs for those secondary cities.' Very little domestic cargo in the mainland is moved by air, since most manufacturing is in the major centres of Shanghai and the Guangzhou-Shenzhen corridor, which are already major air-transport hubs. Goods manufactured in those two areas are typically exported directly or shipped to Hong Kong for re-export, while goods made in the inland cities are generally low value and better served by cheaper land and ocean freight. But as manufacturing in secondary cities becomes more sophisticated, air-cargo traffic will increase. Goods will need to be moved to Shanghai, Guangzhou or Hong Kong before being shipped overseas, while manufacturing technology and parts will need to be moved inland. 'There is a directional inbound and outbound imbalance,' Mr Zhang said. 'There is little domestic cargo moved by air. But this will change and there is lots of room for growth. 'That is why there is an urgent need to build a domestic air-cargo hub from Hong Kong. Dedicated air-cargo rights are needed,' he said. Because of Hong Kong's status as a special administrative region, the SAR has to negotiate its air traffic relationship with Beijing as if it were a foreign country. Industry executives said it was highly unlikely that Beijing would ever give Hong Kong the type of air-traffic rights that would allow operators such as Dragonair to carry cargo between mainland cities. 'Mainland carriers have over-riding rights to fly between mainland cities,' Tony Miller, head of consultant Trinity Aviation and a former chief executive of Dragonair, said. 'Unless there was a shortage of capacity among mainland carriers, why would Beijing take business away from China Eastern, for example, and give it to a Hong Kong carrier? 'Governments tend to protect their own airlines and that's always been the tradition in the aviation industry.'