WE HAVE A top notch editing staff on this newspaper but occasionally some of its members place in paragraph 2 of column 4 on page 5 of Business1 what I would choose to blazon across the front page. It happened on Friday. Here is the key sentence: 'Under the Import-Export (electronic transactions) Bill, the Government is proposing to make mandatory the electronic submission of all shipping, rail and aviation cargo manifests.' Mandatory! What is more they want to charge the users for doing it, not a pittance either, certainly more than through manual processes when e-commerce is supposed to make it all cheaper, and the Government's preferred medium is a system called TradeLink, which is 55 per cent privately owned, including by firms such as Swire and Hutchison. Did you know all that? I certainly did not and I have my nose out sniffing for nonsense in the Government's misconceived logistics drive. My congratulations go to my colleague Russell Barling for picking this one up. My congratulations go to him doubly for pointing out the reaction of the industry. River trade representatives were 'yelling and banging their fists on the tables' and airlines and global shipping lines are also opposed, including a so-called Grand Alliance of which even Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's family firm, Orient Overseas, is a member. Now you may say that this will only apply at the moment to the submission of documents required by the Government but, watch for it, the game plan is to force everything online in the logistics business and it is not just I who say so. It is the Government's clearly stated intention and TradeLink its evident choice for its vaunted e-hub. So what is wrong with that, you say? E-commerce is the wave of the future and Singapore, for instance, has already forced its entire container port business online without much public complaint. Well, there would not be much in Singapore, would there? But then it is all Government in Singapore, anyway - port, major trade financiers, local shipping lines, you name it. More to the point, Singapore may be a shipping centre but it does not have that close integration that Hong Kong has across the border with what has become one of the world's biggest manufacturing centres. Here is one simple reason a reader has offered for why manufacturing plants across the border prefer fax to online e-whatevers for their arrangements. Their clerks find it easier to write Chinese characters on paper than compiling them on computer screens. That is a simple one. There are many more involving the difficulties of integrating systems between a host of small manufacturers and freight forwarders which have different procedures and standards, even within the same company (frequently across the border) and unforeseen contingencies that any clerk with half a brain could sort out competently if he were not imprisoned by the rigours of an online system. Then you get the really big headache of incorporating financial arrangements. Exclude these and you do not really have online logistics. Include them and you get frustration and a fervent wish that you had stuck to clerks using fax as you pay an army of programmers who can never quite make it work. The reason the logistics industry here is not yet online is simply that the old way still works better. When the industry is ready to change it will change on its own and bureaucrats who try to push this process faster than it wants to go are asking for trouble. That word 'mandatory' is a warning bell. We are talking here about the viability of the core of Hong Kong's economy.