GOVERNMENT departments are no longer interfering with marine tariff decisions, symbolising the reformation and opening of China's international shipping market, a senior Chinese official says. Liu Songjin, vice-minister of the Ministry of Communications, said at a recent conference that carriers and shippers were now free to negotiate the price for transport based on market and business practices. ''The shipping company can establish its own tariff standards according to the international market and the domestic market, and must negotiate with cargo owners and adjust the relevant transport conditions,'' he said. Some countries still kept certain quotas for their national shipping fleets, either through legislation or protective shipping policies, Mr Liu said, although he did not identify the nations. He said that in 1988, the Chinese Government had lifted regulations for the retaining of foreign trade cargo quotas for the state fleet, resulting in more commercial opportunities for foreign and domestic shipping enterprises. The Chinese international marine industry was facing a new stage of development, he said. Last year, the Government department in charge of marine transport promulgated a series of policies aimed at shipping reforms. Chinese shipping companies involved in international shipping were given the right to buy and sell vessels bought through their own financial arrangements, or charter out their own vessels. They were also allowed to operate ocean routes. Foreign shipping companies were also given permission to open solely funded or jointly funded shipping enterprises in China, engage in cargo soliciting, and sign bills of lading and foreign exchange account settlements. The forwarding agents' business, which had been a virtual monopoly, was also thrown open, with more agents becoming licensed. Mr Liu said the ministry encouraged the construction and operation of common terminal berths through joint ventures. It had allowed joint co-operative enterprises to operate loading and unloading services, cargo storage, packing and unpacking, and domestic cargo and passenger transport by road and waterway, he said. The Maritime Law, which came into force on July 1, would play a very positive role in the promotion and participation of Chinese and foreign ocean shipping enterprises on a fair competition basis, Mr Liu said. Application of the latest technology on ships, such as energy conservation, pollution prevention, collision avoidance, comprehensive automation, satellite navigation, global positioning and safety alerts, would be more widely used, he said. This would greatly improve the safety and efficiency of vessel navigation, he added.