Hong Kong's proposed HK$3 billion digital trade transport network (DTTN) will pay for itself within four years of becoming operational, according to a report exclusively seen on Sunday by the South China Morning Post . The HK$5 million report suggests user benefits will meet operational and capital costs in the fourth year of the 15-year construction schedule, or after an investment of about HK$1.8 billion. After a two-year implementation period, the DTTN's operating costs could be recovered by levying a HK$200 monthly fee against small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and HK$1,000 for multinational corporations. It estimates the annual cost of operating and managing the network to be about HK$90 million. The DTTN, described as a 'platform that provides interconnection among the industry stakeholders and related community systems to facilitate information flow and enhance [trade] efficiency', is seen as one of two critical infrastructure projects this year for the logistics industry. The other is the proposed HK$15 billion bridge linking Lantau with Zhuhai and Macau, which would ease access to manufacturers on the eastern side of the Pearl River Delta. The report, compiled by consultants Accenture, says the HK$3 billion investment over 17 years will reap HK$11.8 billion in benefits to the trade and logistics industry by improving industry management and better targeting company resources. It says the first phase can be in place within 15 months, once funding, ownership and management challenges have been answered. It might not be possible to get all the questions answered and processes in place by the end of the year, but it would be possible to get a start, said John Hammond, head of the e-logistics team under the Logistics Development Council. 'We will need to sort out how to ensure neutrality from a network management perspective. Its governance will have to give everyone a high degree of comfort.' The report found that the cumulative capital costs of the 17-year project would be about HK$1.5 billion. It suggests that capital and operational costs could be recovered over the period by bumping the monthly fee for SMEs and multinationals to HK$420 and HK$2,100, respectively. Sensitive to widening the divide between technological have and have-not companies in the trade transport sector, the report says these investment recovery models are only possible if SMEs are included as stakeholders. As such, it recommends the DTTN should accommodate more than 60 message types and 19 format, encoding and identification standards across multiple channels. 'An SME which already has PC and Internet access will not need to incur major cost for equipment, software etc, to gain access to the DTTN,' it says. However, despite the complexity of the massive technology project, a leading academic said yesterday the biggest hurdle would be in the bricks and mortar environment. 'The greatest challenge in the DTTN's successful implementation will not be technological, it will be political,' said Waiman Cheung, director of the Cyber Logistics Centre at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Mr Cheung cites competing agendas of the government's commerce and economic development ministries, as well as those in the private sector, as the major obstacles. Such rivalries surfaced before the report was released when a private-sector coalition led by Tradelink, Hutchison subsidiary Line and OnePort made a counter proposal to the Accenture study that they said would cost only HK$150 million over the first two years using existing infrastructure. 'Now that we know the scale of the project which lies ahead, it would be interesting to see if Tradelink still thinks they can accomplish this for the same price,' Professor Cheung said.