Critics claim two government-funded studies that recommend spending billions on the transport and logistics sector fail to come to grips with the fundamental problem of liberalising air-traffic between Hong Kong and the mainland. The Strategic Overview of Major Airport Development (Somad) and the Study to Strengthen Hong Kong's Role as the Preferred International and Regional Transportation and Logistics Hub 2001 - more commonly referred to as the McClier report - both advocate upgrading transport infrastructure to help drive the sector's development over the next two decades. But neither study deals with the issue of expanding air-traffic rights between Chek Lap Kok and the mainland, which could prove pivotal as Hong Kong tries to grab a share of the mainland's developing express cargo market. Neither study was meant for public consumption and it is understood only 200 copies of the McClier report were printed. They were written as policy guides for senior government officials and industry leaders. They are helping shape a comprehensive logistics strategy, which forms a significant part of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's HK$15 billion economic stimulus package announced last month. But critics of the studies say they leave much to be desired as policy guides, as there is virtually no mention of a need to expand air-cargo traffic between Hong Kong and the mainland. Dragonair operates the only dedicated cargo service from Hong Kong to the mainland, with a single Boeing 747 freighter. But express cargo - a critical part of modern supply-chain management - is the fastest-growing freight sector in the world, as evidenced by intensive air-traffic networks such as that operated by Federal Express in the United States. It dominates the type of high value-added logistics business the Government is pushing the SAR towards. While more than 70 per cent of Chek Lap Kok's air cargo destined for outbound markets originates in the mainland, it is almost all brought in by road or sea for transshipment, one transport industry executive said, speaking on condition of anonymity. 'There is a lot of talk about liberalising Hong Kong's air services regime with the US but none at all about the one relationship that really matters going forward - China,' the executive said. 'It's a very obvious issue. If we're going to be able to service the mainland market effectively as a major hub for transshipments in the future, then we must expand our air-freighter access to the mainland.' Another logistics industry executive concurred: 'You can expand express-cargo flights between Hong Kong and the US to 500 services per day if you want, but what are you going to put on those planes if there's nothing coming out of the mainland? 'Okay, there is a legitimate need to improve the road and river access to the Pearl River Delta, but what are you going to do, a 10-hour trucking run to Chek Lap Kok for every express delivery package we get from Wuhan? 'If we don't do something about it, all that high-value air-freight business is going to get diverted to Shanghai,' the executive said. An airline consultant involved in the writing of the Somad report defended its research, saying the team did acknowledge the importance of expanded air access to China but regarded it as a moot issue on two counts. 'First, Beijing indicated to us repeatedly that it was giving priority to Shanghai and Beijing for international traffic rights because it was felt that Hong Kong has had a long head start, and to divide future growth among three hubs within China is counter-productive,' he said. 'Beijing's point of view has always been that if the Shenzhen and Guangzhou air hubs want to grow, they've got to work out some sort of arrangement with Hong Kong to share a unified cargo strategy.' He said whether Shenzhen or Guangzhou would ever agree to that arrangement was for the Government to work out. The second issue was the distribution of manufacturing development across China. Hong Kong would be able to capture the air-transport market for China's value-added exports without the need for expanded air-freighter access because most of that manufacturing would continue to happen in the Pearl River Delta, within ground transport range, or near Shanghai. 'We placed a high degree of emphasis on Hong Kong's multi-modal transport capabilities - such as improved rail, road and sea links between Chek Lap Kok and the Pearl River Delta - over the next 20 years because we feel that's where the manufacturing of goods that will require air transport will continue to be,' the consultant said.