Hong Kong-listed Cosco Pacific is in talks to bring in a partner in its plan to take a 30 per cent stake in the operations of Fuzhou Port. Sources say Cosco, Asia's third-biggest container terminal operator, now plans to join with Shenzhen state-owned port manager Yantian Port Group to complete the deal it originally announced last year. A unit of Cosco Group, the country's biggest shipowner, Cosco Pacific in April last year announced that it had signed a letter of intent with Fujian Provincial Communication Transportation (Shareholding) to 'acquire approximately a 29 per cent equity interest in Fuzhou Port Group'. Fuzhou Port Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of Fujian Transportation, operates container, coal and ore terminals and related businesses. Its operating base, Fuzhou Port, has been designated by the Ministry of Communications for a trial run of direct transport links between the mainland and Taiwan. The partners are betting on a lifting of existing restrictions on vessels crossing the strait that is expected to come into effect in two months. Ports in Fuzhou and Xiamen are expected to be among the first to benefit from the new policy. 'Cosco Pacific is still negotiating the pricing of the stake with Fuzhou Port Group,' said a source. According to a preliminary agreement, Cosco Pacific is to buy 20 per cent of the group while Yantian Port Group, controlled by the Shenzhen State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, is to acquire 10 per cent. The mainland and Taiwan are expected to lift bans on direct sea-borne trade that have been in place for more than 50 years, following a similar liberalisation of air traffic links on July 4. Once this happens, shipping lines will be able to skip transits in Hong Kong or Japan, resulting in substantial cost and time savings. 'Due to proximity and a common language between Fujian and Taiwan, the relaxation of direct trade could favour us the most,' said an executive at Fuzhou International Container Terminal. Fujian is a popular mainland investment destination for Taiwanese companies. Ships can sail directly from Fuzhou and Xiamen to three destinations in Taiwan including Kaohsiung, Keelung and Taichung, although initially only transshipment cargo bound for international markets via Taiwan will be allowed. Shipments for local consumption in Taiwan will still have to travel via Hong Kong or the Japanese island of Ishigaki to change the shipment's port of origin. Fuzhou handled 330,000 20-foot equivalent units (teu) of trial direct-link cargo last year, outstripping Xiamen's throughput by 21 per cent. Fuzhou International Container Terminal, which started operations in 2003, handled 300,000 teu last year, well below the 1.2 million capacity of the three berths. Two more berths are expected to come on stream in the first quarter of next year, bringing the designed capacity of the port to 2 million teu. Fuzhou Port Group owns 46 per cent of Fuzhou International Container Terminal, while Singapore's PSA International holds a 40 per cent stake. Fuzhou Port Group owns 49 per cent of Qingzhou Terminal, while PSA holds the balance. In total, the mainland port group owns 49 berths valued at 3 billion yuan (HK$3.44 billion) in terms of total assets.