THE long-delayed Tradelink contract, one of the largest information technology projects in the territory with a possible value of $700 million, is to be awarded on September 30 with two consortiums left in the running. Sources say that when the project board met on Tuesday, its first choice of the 20 or so bids submitted for the electronic data interchange (EDI) project was by an IBM-led consortium, and this will win the contract if a few small details are ironed out. A group led by Unisys was a fall-back choice. Griff Griffith, Tradelink manager of business strategy and services, said loan finance was being sought as well as cash from shareholders, which include many of the biggest hongs. He said the contract would be announced on the afternoon of September 30, the last day of a Hong Kong conference on Electronic Data Interchange, EDI Asia. The most recent of many timetable slippages occurred when the management said it could not award the contract by the middle of this year as planned. Completion of the project would mean that the territory had a paperwork-shrinking electronic system similar to that implemented in Singapore in 1988. About a decade will have passed since the system was first mooted. One group that has expressed concern at the slow pace is the Hong Kong Liner Shipping Association, whose chairman described the development as too slow and fragmented. The system will initially cut all company-to-Government paperwork for getting trade declarations and textile quotas, and can carry other services such as funds transfer and electronic messaging. The Tradelink consortiums originally aimed to reach more than 100,000 of the territory's trading companies, although the easy-access facilities have been scaled down since proposals were first requested from industry last year. The winning bidder will be several hundred million dollars in the red before the system starts to pay off, and some shareholders do not think the system will ever get into the black. Mr Griffith said: ''Every individual shareholder must make their own decision.'' Expressions of interest had been received from parties interested in the 18 per cent stake still for sale, Mr Griffith said - but nothing firmer. The current shareholders, with 52 per cent between them, are: China Resources (Holdings), Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals, the Hong Kong Association of Freight Forwarding Agents, Hongkong Bank, the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, Hong Kong International Terminals, Hongkong Telecom, Modern Terminals Ltd, Standard Chartered Bank and Swire Pacific. The Government's stake is 30 per cent, for which it paid $11.75 million in February. It will also take the further 18 per cent if the expressions of interest do not turn into sales.