Alliance renews call after learning the levy will cost traders 22b yuan this year The mainland's biggest alliance of exporters yesterday renewed the call to abolish terminal handling charges in their present form after it was revealed that mainland shippers would pay more than 22 billion yuan because of the levy this year. China Shippers Association secretary-general Wang Shouren said the shipping lines' unilateral application of the levy for the past decade had been an 'unlawful, monopolistic and a discriminative action'. 'Collecting the [levy] separately from the freight rates violates the normal international trade practices of international container transportation,' Mr Wang told delegates at China Containers 2004 in Beijing. 'Only those who pay the freight rates should pay the [levy].' The transport cost of moving goods to market is typically paid by the buyer. But shipping lines began passing on the costs they incurred while calling at the port of origin to the sellers, who disproportionately reside in Asia. In Guangdong, where terminal handling charges were invoked for the first time in January 2002, the levy is US$141 for 20-foot boxes and US$269 for a 40-foot unit. About 58 million 20-ft boxes were expected to cross the mainland's docks this year and Mr Wang said exporters would pay 22.46 yuan billion in levies. Exporters had paid about 53.2 billion yuan since the inception of the levy almost three years ago. Asia's exporters say they have no commercial relationship with the lines - the buyer negotiates the freight rate and nominates the carrier and port - which gives them no mechanism to influence the level at which the levy is set. In Hong Kong, the levy's level has not changed in more than a decade which, shippers argue, would not have been the case if the charges were part of the freight rates, which fluctuate with the industry's movements in supply and demand. Port and Maritime Board secretary Raymond Fan Wai-ming last month said the government would inject more urgency into settling the levy's dispute, which is playing a direct role in eroding Hong Kong's cost competitiveness compared with ports in Shenzhen. But an industry meeting on the issue last month failed to bring the two sides any closer to a resolution, according to executives in attendance. Hong Kong Shippers Council executive director Sunny Ho Lap-kee said: 'The government asked the shipping lines to revisit their position. The ball is now clearly in their court.' No date was set for the sides to reconvene. In the mainland, the communications ministry has yet to give a verdict on the legality of the levy after almost two years of deliberation.