THE lengthy delay in the construction of Container Terminal 9 (CT9), due to political differences between Britain and China, has increased its cost by about 20 per cent. Hongkong International Terminals (HIT) managing director John Meredith said each of the four berths at CT9 would cost about $3 billion at present prices. Although the two consortiums granted the development rights for CT9 at the end of 1992 have not disclosed their original cost estimates, industry analysts had put the cost of the terminal at $10 billion, including the undisclosed land premium. ''Container terminals are becoming expensive animals,'' he told a lunch meeting of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce. ''Each berth at CT9 will cost about $3 billion before it becomes operational,'' he said. Mr Meredith said that in spite of the rising cost, HIT was willing to participate in the development of CT9, to be built at Tsing Yi Island. Although he declined to elaborate, shipping industry sources said the per berth cost estimate included the cost of construction, the land premium and the infrastructure work the port developers were required to do on behalf of the Government. By comparison, the four berths at CT8, now under construction at Kwai Chung, are costing about $1.5 billion each. This includes the land premium of $2 billion for the four berths. Analysts assume the land premium for CT9 to be $4 billion, given the appreciation in land values since 1991, when rights for the development of CT8 were granted by private treaty to a consortium made up of HIT, Modern Terminals Ltd (MTL) and China Ocean Shipping Corp. HIT and MTL formed one of the two consortiums granted the rights, also by private treaty, at the end of 1992 to develop and run CT9. The other consortium was Jardine Pacific-led Tsing Yi Container Terminal (TYC). It is understood that government estimates for the overall construction cost of CT9 are about 10 per cent below the estimates put forward by the developers. The contract requires the port operators to build a bridge linking Tsing Yi to Kwai Chung container port and roads, and requires dredging in the Rambler Channel. The Government has agreed to repay the consortiums for the infrastructure work, but the amount is $3 billion short of what HIT, MTL and TYC expect construction costs to be. ''Our not being fully compensated will add substantially to the overall cost of CT9,'' an MTL official said. CT9 will take about 30 months to build. The first berth could be completed within 12 months, with the remaining three in six-month periods thereafter. However, Mr Meredith said since no agreement had been reached on CT9, it could be assumed that the first berth would not be ready by the middle of next year. It has been suggested that the development of CT9 be scrapped in favour of the development of CT10 on Lantau Island. But Mr Meredith said it would still make sense to go ahead with CT9, because CT10 has difficult engineering aspects and its construction might also be delayed. The overall handling capacity of CT8 is estimated at 1.8 million TEUs (20-foot equivalent units), which will bring Kwai Chung's overall handling capacity to 6.8 million TEUs. Included in this figure is the assumption that additional land will be released to HIT and MTL, resulting in an additional one million TEUs of capacity annually. Berth 3 of the terminal was opened last month and part of Berth 4 is expected to begin operations by late July.