So it is all settled then: PSA International opened the vault and now will get a piece of every dollar earned at 17 of Hong Kong's 24 deep-sea berths. Singapore's port investment vehicle has shelled out about $10.22 billion since February for that honour; only time will tell whether it will prove to be a shrewd investment or state-financed folly. Another question that remains unanswered is: will the new PSA-Hutchison Whampoa partnership be the shot in the arm that resurrects Hong Kong's lagging port prospects by luring shipping lines back to Kwai Chung? That appears doubtful. If they had combined to operate an emerging port with aspirations to climb the global throughput ladder, the depth of their expertise and pockets would indeed hold the promise of a bright future. But Hong Kong is a fully matured port at the top of that ladder, with only one direction before it. The deal merely ensures that, as maturity puts the inevitable pressure on margins, the decline is not accelerated by 'reckless' urges to cut terminal handling charges to compete for customers. PSA and Hutchison forged an agreement to make sure the weight of shareholder expectations for earnings does not ride their cash cow into the ground as it plods off into the sunset. According to one senior executive, the deal also signalled the end to an era in Kwai Chung he would rather forget. Only pure port players again grace Kwai Chung's shores. The property conglomerates that badgered their way on to the lucrative port scene were seen as little more than looters by the traditional terminal operating community, holding up the Bank of Kwai Chung for billions without ever having to move a box. They have always bemoaned the presence of outsiders such as Sung Hung Kai Properties, Henderson Land Development and NWS Holdings, which were allowed by the government to compete for, and ultimately win, a stake in the CT9 complex before selling out at a handsome profit without ever opening for business. The executive even blamed the interlopers' lack of commitment to the port for the lack of progress that has been made on the cross-border trucking issues that have seen exporters divert their goods to the cheaper facilities in Shenzhen. 'It was a winning model that [the government] messed around with,' he said. 'If we had limited the port to committed players, we would be closer to having solved the problems at the border. '[The port community] has not been as unified recently in demanding a solution to those problems as we should be.' With dedicated terminal developers such as the PSA and Dubai Ports replacing the property rabble, 'stability' and 'industry focus' would return to the port, he said. Given its druthers, PSA probably would have rather challenged Hong Kong Inc for customers. It has all the prerequisites to compete on an equal footing: world-class terminal management, a big bank account and an expanding network of ports with which to compete for global contracts. However, its local assets before last week's deal left it between a rock and a hard place. It paid a premium for enough quayside in Kwai Chung that it needed to poach local business but not enough space to attract the biggest lines or any of the global alliances. As such, it would have had to take on the role of port pariah to attract the kind of business that ultimately was very unlikely to cover some pretty weighty debt payments, at least in the short term. And with margins on the decline across the port, a price war - even with a relative lightweight in the local sense - was the last thing Hutchison, or anyone else at the port, needed. So the deal was done and the PSA became a paid-up member of Hong Kong Inc: not a real family member, per se, more the offspring of a pragmatic adoption. But do not expect this to be the first act in an emerging theatre of global co-operation between Hutchison and the PSA, as some pundits have speculated. There is no love lost between the two.