Daily customs operations could stall if management does not make a quick decision on when to recruit the 521 officers needed to staff the soon-to-be-opened Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Corridor, a union warned yesterday. Association of Customs and Excise Service Officers chairman Alfred Poon Cheuk-kwong said the recruiting and training of new officers would take up to 15 months. A delay in hiring recruits would affect more areas than just the new checkpoint, Mr Poon said, because experienced staff were expected to be plucked from other branches to lead the new recruits, and they would need to be replaced. But if the replacements - expected to be recruits - are not ready by the time the experienced officers are sent to the new checkpoint about the middle of next year, staff fear there will be shortages. 'If there are not enough officers then service quality, such as the inspection of cargo, may suffer,' said Mr Poon, who also chairs the staff side of the Disciplined Services Consultative Council. Of the 521 positions to be filled at the Western Corridor, about a third will be taken up by recruits. The remaining posts will be staffed by existing officers, whose old posts would be filled by recruits or through promotions. Mr Poon said the association had discussed the possible staff shortage with management in January, but at the moment there was no timetable for further talks. As of yesterday, the department had 4,924 staff. It began recruiting procedures for 171 people in January but they are intended to replace staff lost over the past few years.