The government must take a more active role in developing Hong Kong's maritime industry into an Asian trade hub or it would lose out to Shanghai and Singapore, an influential think-tank warned yesterday. The One Country Two Systems Research Institute said the three cities were best poised to capture lucrative business as the shipping industry slowly moved its centre of gravity from Europe to Asia. To secure its place, Hong Kong should follow the example of London and Shanghai in setting up a shipping exchange platform where owners and brokers could make transactions and exchange information on the shipping trade, the institute said in a research paper. It should also encourage mainland shipping firms to list on the Hong Kong stock exchange and negotiate with mainland authorities over the opening up of its marine- insurance market under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement. Senior research officer Joe Fang said Hong Kong was well placed to establish an exchange facility. 'Most of Shanghai's staff do not have good command of English and are not quality maritime professionals, while London cannot provide timely information for the Asia market due to the time difference,' Dr Fang said. Institute chairman and Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying said it was not about seeking handouts from Beijing. 'We possess many advantages in becoming an international maritime hub, like language skills and the rule of law,' he said. Borrowing a line from Donald Tsang Yam-kuen when he successfully campaigned for the chief executive's job in 2005, Mr Leung - tipped to be a candidate in 2012 - said he would be a 'good salesman' in promoting Hong Kong's marine services to the mainland and elsewhere. The report noted that in 2007 the maritime industry generated at least HK$109 billion for Hong Kong, even in the face of fierce competition from other ports. 'As mainland ports are quickly catching up with us in the volume of throughput, we should develop high-value-added services like shipping insurance, marine law, arbitration and shipping brokerage, where the earnings per capita is so much higher,' Mr Leung said. The State Council said last month that Shanghai should strive to become an international financial and shipping centre by 2020. In the face of such challenges, the report said, the Hong Kong government should inject more resources into nurturing local talent, such as collaborating with sea schools and universities to create a 'through train' scheme that offered students apprenticeships and job opportunities immediately after graduation. Mr Leung, also a board member of City University, said that institution would soon open new courses on the subjects. Meanwhile, the Marine Department proposed to the Legislative Council yesterday cutting 27 types of fees paid by the shipping industry in an effort to boost marine trade, at a cost of HK$17.8 million a year in lost revenue. They include a 40 per cent reduction in port and arrival clearance fees for ocean-going vessels and river trade barges to HK$58 a trip and a reduction in the maximum annual tonnage charges of a ship registered in Hong Kong from HK$100,000 to HK$77,500.