The biggest port operator in the world is one of three Hong Kong companies interested in developing the terminal The international port investment arm of Hutchison Whampoa is one of three Hong Kong operators to express an interest in developing and operating a major container terminal in New York harbour. Hutchison Port Holdings, which handles 14 per cent of the world's container trade, is among nine operators to formally show interest in the 101-hectare Bayonne Harbour project at the port of New York and New Jersey (NY&NJ). 'We can confirm that Hutchison Port has put an expression of interest on the project, but have nothing further to add,' a Hutchison executive said yesterday. CSX World Terminals and China Ocean Shipping Co, presumably through listed Cosco Pacific, have also thrown their hats into the ring, according to the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority. Cosco Pacific spokesman Kelvin Wong did not return calls yesterday. With expressions of interest in hand, the Bayonne authority will open the project to proposals in January next year, based on a 30-year lease model with an option to extend the agreement. It hopes to select the winning bid by the middle of next year and have the first phase operational in two years. Although Hutchison Port is the world's biggest container port operator, handling 36.7 million boxes last year, it does not have any United States-based terminals. An analyst at a foreign investment bank said: 'It is a very interesting development because Hutchison to date has been very Asia-driven. 'We have known they wanted to get into North America, but there has been a real fear of the unions. In the US, [unions] take away the power to determine the bottom line.' NY&NJ and other ports along America's eastern seaboard have benefited greatly from union militancy among dockworkers on the west coast. US multinational retailers such as Wal-Mart lessened their dependence on west coast ports such as Los Angeles after union workers there shut the terminals down for 11 days in September last year. The diversion of Asian cargo through the Panama Canal to the east coast has resulted in record volumes this year for the ports of New York, Charleston and Savannah, Georgia. China became the biggest source of imports for New York in the first six months of this year, while Asia accounted for 35 per cent of container trade at the port last year. The port has traditionally not lived up to its potential as the gateway to the lucrative greater New York consumer market because shallow water restricts the size of vessels that can call at the harbour, or how much the bigger ships can carry. But the port authority has committed US$1.8 billion to dredge key access routes at the port to 15 metres, including the New Jersey Channel where Bayonne Harbour is. The dredging project will allow the port to handle the new generation of fully laden container ships by next year and may have been enough to tempt Hutchison into the US market despite its traditional union misgivings and its dislike for the litigious nature of the American corporate environment. A 30-year lease model would also be a significant departure from the type of project Hutchison usually pursued, preferring longer terms or majority ownership. A Hutchison analyst in Hong Kong said: 'The whole reason for the Bahamas was the lack of water depths on the east coast and the high valuations which did not reflect those shortcomings.'