Until five years ago, trade between India and China amounted to a negligible trickle of trinkets, machinery parts and the occasional barge-load of ore. Respective business interests in the two Asian giants studiously ignored each other, even as both economies began amassing huge foreign currency reserves from foreign investment and external trade. Since 2000, however, Sino-Indian trade has mushroomed, reaching a forecast US$18 billion this year, from less than US$1 billion. Much of this new trade is facilitated through Hong Kong, one of the few places in the world where powerful Indian and Chinese business families have long-standing ties. While western companies generally look to India as an outsourcing locale for cheap, educated labour to staff call centres and software sweatshops, resource-hungry Chinese firms have found the country to be an excellent source of materials such as cotton, polyester, and brass and iron scrap. For years, interacting with India's banking system was as sure to cause indigestion as a bowl of curry at a road-side dhaba in Delhi. Chinese customers were asked to allow three weeks for payments to be credited to their suppliers, as a typical international transfer would pass through dozens of dusty offices on its journey from Hong Kong to a beneficiary account in Lucknow or Hyderabad. By the late 1990s, however, most major Indian banks had signed on to international remittance networks like Swift, enabling payments to be credited to far-flung beneficiaries within two days. The entry of international banking giants like HSBC, one might think, would only strengthen and quicken India's international payments system. Apparently not. Loose Cannon has dabbled in Indian trade over the years, and still has occasion to purchase goods and services on the subcontinent. The miracle of internet banking allows him to log on, enter the beneficiary bank, account number and Swift code, and presto! Off goes a telegraphic transfer (TT) certain to bring the blessings of Luxmi to a worthy Indian supplier within two working days. In HSBC's case, make that two weeks. Earlier this year, complaints came in from north Indian suppliers that promised payments had not materialised. On investigation, Loose Cannon found that instead of using the Swift information to send a TT directly to the Indian institution, the world's local bank was instead instructing its branch in Mumbai to execute the transfer. From there, instead of using the domestic TT system, HSBC Mumbai was issuing a demand draft (ie, a bank cheque), placing it in an envelope, and entrusting the precious missive to the tender mercies of the Indian postal service. Four or five days later the cheque would arrive at the beneficiary bank, which would promptly re-post it to the issuing bank for clearance. After Loose Cannon complained to HSBC that this was hardly an ideal way of doing business, and may even prove to be unlawful - he had, after all, paid for and was promised a TT, not a demand draft - the bank wisely assigned 'Josephine', an intrepid, cheerful and efficient customer service officer, to handle the matter. Josephine not only immediately refunded Loose Cannon's remittance fees, she spent hours telephoning the nether regions of the Indian banking bureaucracy to find out what was happening. Although Josephine's report was an unconvincing collection of excuses she had acquired from the remittance departments at HSBC Hong Kong and its counterpart in Mumbai, she nonetheless charmed Loose Cannon into complacency, thereby heading off a threatened complaint to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. The fact remains, however, that HSBC's remittance service is a most inauspicious means of wiring money to India.