OnePort, the long-awaited trade portal joint venture between the Wharf Group and Hutchison Whampoa, will be launched this month after more than a year of shareholder wrangling and hand-ringing over a viable business model. As the protagonists' port operating arms, Hongkong International Terminals (HIT) and Modern Terminals (MTL), move more than 80 per cent of the cargo at Kwai Chung, the portal is seen as a potentially vital cog in Hong Kong's embryonic digital trade transport network (DTTN). The name OnePort has become synonymous with false starts of late - it had at least two abandoned launches this year, in February and July - but management this time believes its creation is a virtual fait accompli. 'The company is already in place and we will be going to our [MTL] shareholders at the December 19 board meeting,' MTL managing director Erik Bogh Christensen said. He said the lengthy discussion on the project had been so comprehensive there was unlikely to be any surprises at the meeting. 'It will probably be a mere formality,' he said. Hutchison sources in Hong Kong declined to comment, but it is thought its shareholders will rubber-stamp the project within the next two weeks. OnePort will be the conduit through which trade at the main terminals will be managed online. But the port's other terminal operators, Cosco-HIT and CSX World Terminals, have yet to commit to the project. CSX World Terminals (Asia) chairman William McHugh said in July some of CSX's reluctance to take a stake in OnePort stemmed from the fact that 'part of the OnePort package included products the shipping lines were offering for free'. CSX would not comment on its involvement. But, while OnePort declined to say what services the portal would offer, the business model has apparently matured since. 'We won't be trying to sell services that others are giving away,' a OnePort spokesman said yesterday. OnePort, whose start-up cost was pinned at 'hundreds of millions of dollars' by one executive, has its critics. 'There are products offering similar, if not identical, systems which are more powerful and more geographically diverse,' one port official said. If CSX and Cosco-HIT remained undecided past the launch date, they would not necessarily be excluded, Mr Christensen said. 'I suppose they could be given the opportunity in six months' time to get involved as it would be better if all parties were involved. It would be preferable if they put the cash up front, though,' he said. Tradelink, the portal for regulatory requirements in which the government owns 42 per cent, is in late-stage negotiations with OnePort about taking a stake, believed to be in the 10 to 20 per cent range. 'We are very close to a deal,' one executive involved in the negotiations said. A senior source at the Commerce, Industry and Technology Bureau, Tradelink's largest shareholder, said: 'I can confirm there have been some discussions, but for details you will have to talk to Tradelink or OnePort.' Tradelink is also on the verge of taking a stake in a separate Hutchison subsidiary, Logistics Information Network Enterprise. Local Hutchison sources declined to comment. But a Tradelink source said: 'Our board has given its approval in principle for the swap, but there is little I can say because the deal is undergoing due diligence.' The flurry of deal-making within the companies - seen as potentially the core players in the emergence of Hong Kong's DTTN - has raised concerns about the critical commercial neutrality of the final e-hub product. Mr Christensen, however, said he did not see a problem. 'Neutrality? I don't think that's an issue. Don't you think Tradelink is neutral? The amount of shippers that already use the site would appear to indicate they do,' he said. But one Logistics Council member, when asked if he thought the deal-making would enhance Tradelink's neutrality, said: 'Hardly.' Tradelink has a monopoly on the electronic transmission of regulatory documents, but the government will introduce two more companies into that market at the end of next year.