HERE IS AN IDEA for becoming a grown-up city like London or New York. Let's get rid of our port, transfer it lock, stock and barrel to somewhere in the mainland. Absurd, you say? Why? Go to London these days and all you see of where the port of London used to be is some ideas for what we might do with the old runway at Kai Tak. Go to Manhattan and you get a rusting old aircraft carrier docked as a museum for military buffs on one shoreline and a museum for sailing ship buffs on the other, same thing in London if you cross the Thames to Greenwich. Neither of these world-class cities has had a port to speak of for decades and yet they have gone from strength to strength as service centres. Think of some of the things our port brings us. First, there is heavy traffic congestion on all roads to the border with that choking cloud of smog rising above them every morning. Then there is the land-intensive nature of running a port. Leaving aside the vast amount of land we devote to its road links, just think of what redevelopment of that enormous acreage at Kwai Chung could do to solve our housing problems. Think also about the vast sums of money our Government will have to spend on infrastructure over coming years just to restrain the inexorably rising costs of trucking goods across the border to Kwai Chung from rising even faster. Is it really economic to keep the port where it is any longer? Yes, we stand to lose a few jobs if it goes elsewhere. London and New York did too but it made both more liveable cities. The port workers moved with the ports. Many will not even have to do so in our case. All we need to do is reduce that migrant intake from China of 55,000 people a year and we are quickly back in balance. Nor do we lose commercial clout. Hong Kong interests own most of those ports in China anyway. In fact they even own what has now become the port of London, Felixstowe. And the big plus if we do it is that we will, like London and New York, have the room and resources to concentrate on our real strengths, those office-based trade and finance services. The transition to these industries worked marvellously for London and New York. Why do we insist on staying frozen in our past? The irony here, however, is that we cannot even make the change just yet. Those big container ships do not want to call at every town on the south China coast. They run on tight schedules and what they want is their cargoes concentrated at Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei, Pusan and Yokohama. Want to ship a 40-foot container of textiles to Oakland from Hong Kong? Your ocean freight cost from Maersk Sealand is US$3,800. Want to do the same from Ningbo? Your charge is now US$4,750. That's the cost of extra trouble. In fact you cannot even get a distinct freight rate for origins near Hong Kong. You just get the Hong Kong rate plus something called 'PRC arbitraries'. Things can only go more that way with bigger container ships and their deeper draughts. How many ports in China do you want to dredge out and how much will that cost? So why was this McClier report that our Government commissioned entitled 'Study to Strengthen Hong Kong's Role as the Preferred International and Regional Transportation and Logistics Hub'? Hong Kong is so already and is becoming more so every day without any help from consultants' studies. But is either the SAR or the mainland truly better off this way? It is time both considered whether a central port elsewhere on the south China coast would not make more economic sense, both for mainland exporters and by leaving room for the next step up in Hong Kong's development.