Two of the most fierce port-operating rivals in Hong Kong are about to jointly launch an online system that will offer paperless transactions at their facilities for everything from service booking to customs clearance. Wharf (Holdings) subsidiary Modern Terminals (MTL) and Hutchison Whampoa's Hongkong International Terminals (HIT), which control more than 80 per cent of throughput at Kwai Chung, will launch the new system by early next month, according to a source involved in the talks. The source said: 'The business model is very mature and we are looking at a late February-early March launch, pending approval from our shareholders. 'The specifics - the service portfolio and the flow model - are essentially done. The portal will focus on offering a portfolio of online transport documentation and scheduling services for truckers, shippers [of goods] and the shipping lines.' The first phase of the project would cost up to HK$150 million, said the source, who also indicated that a higher level of investment would be needed to take the portal to its next stage. 'The first phase will not need a very complex information technology system,' the source said. Shifting the millions of monthly trade transactions to an online platform, or portal, is a primary focus for the newly formed Logistics Development Council, especially its e-logistics project team. The move to online transactions is seen as one obvious way to address the high cost of doing business at Kwai Chung, which analysts believe is eroding its regional competitiveness. Truckers, most of whom are the owner-operators of their vehicles, will save HK$2,000 a month by not having to pay someone to pick up the documentation for each load from post office boxes. Huge industry savings will also be gained from increased operational efficiency. The pressure to be a first-mover in online documentation has been building in tandem with Hong Kong's logistics initiative, which Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa began in October with his HK$15 billion economic stimulus package. The launch date for the portal originally was scheduled for October, but was delayed after company shareholders baulked, favouring 'a more realistic and precautionary approach'. A local shipping line executive said: 'The fact that they were so close to launching without fine-tuning their business model says a lot about how desperately this type of product is needed.' Also involved in the initiative is HIT sister company Logistics Information Network Enterprise (Line), which has been doing some ground-breaking work in cross-border load matching for truckers, who traditionally have had to make one leg of their Hong Kong-China deliveries empty. Line's involvement is thought to indicate there will be cross-border elements to the trade flows facilitated by the new online system. Officially, the partners' spokesmen circled the wagons around the initiative yesterday, with all sources saying the project was merely 'a feasibility study'. That 'feasibility' appears to have been bolstered following the responses of 800 truckers, shippers and shipping line executives to a survey indicating they were willing to pay for such a service. While the terminal operators at Kwai Chung have co-operated on an informal basis before, the new portal brings that to another level, given that commercial secrets such as liner contracts and rates negotiations will all now be kept on one database. The source said: 'You can imagine what it took to get this together. To my knowledge this is the first time Hutchison and Wharf have ever worked together on anything. 'We delayed the October launch because we wanted to make sure the business model was correct. The timing is now right.'