Member lines from the Transpacific Stabilisation Agreement (TSA) have voted unanimously to implement from January 1 a terminal handling charge (THC) for most ports in central and northern China. As similar charges exist in Shanghai, Guangdong, Guanxi, Hainan and Yunan, those areas have been exempted. The lines last month initiated a THC in Vietnam, leaving China as the only country in Asia without a nationally administered surcharge, which carriers describe as a cost-recovery mechanism. The TSA members will charge 370 yuan (about HK$346.73) per teu (20 ft equivalent unit) and 560 yuan per feu (40 ft equivalent unit) for dry freight, and 410 yuan and 610 yuan for refrigerated cargo. However, industry watchers fear the lines' start-up date may be too soon, as China's regulatory bodies, including the Ministry of Communications (MoC) and the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation (Moftec), have been in talks for the past year but have yet to rubber-stamp the move. 'We already have conceptual support for the THC from the MoC and Moftec, we just have to dot the 'i's and cross the 't's. 'But the lines have decided to be more aggressive, so we are scrambling around trying to set up more meetings for December,' said an executive close to the negotiations. 'While we don't technically have to have everyone's approval, I would like to complete the educational process so the various government offices and shippers councils in China understand why we are doing this.' A high-level source at the China Shippers Association, the national body formed in late August to unify the voice of the country's freight transport buyers, expressed surprise at the decision, saying he had not been notified. The lines tried to effect the equivalent of a THC in Fujian province, but it failed to stick with the contract holders so it was delayed to January 1, when the new contract season begins. This, and the MoC's decision to bump per-unit port operator handling charges by 15 per cent from the new year, is thought to have influenced the timing for the THC's implementation. An executive from a European shipping line said: 'It is a cost-recovery move in response to the MoC's terminal operating raise. 'It is easier to apply at the beginning of the year. 'As long as we file 30-days' notice, we are in line with the regulations.' While the new MoC-directed charges would not apply to most joint-venture ports, a local port operator said they were likely to affect 70 per cent of China's containerised trade. The lines on the transpacific are thought to have taken the initiative because the majority of their contracts with shippers are struck on a calendar basis, which usually starts on January 1. The negotiator said: 'The thought is they want to get this done now or it may have to wait another year.' But he said he would like to see a more considered approach. 'It has taken a long time to gain conceptual approval for the THC. 'It is a big thing. Let us not spoil it because January 1 seems like some kind of magical date.' Now the TSA has set the ball in motion, conferences governing the Asia-Europe, Middle East, Australasia and intra-Asia trades are keen to follow suit.