NEWS that Shenzhen leaders plan to reform the port fee structure at Yantian International Container Terminals (YICT) will be welcomed by shipping companies which have described it as too arbitrary. Shenzhen vice-mayor Zhu Yuening admitted yesterday that fees for customs inspection, pilotage and ship tonnage at YICT were higher than those in Hong Kong and that collection was sometimes done in a chaotic manner. But one fails to understand why Mr Zhu had to lead a delegation of the Shenzhen municipal government all the way to Europe to visit the continent's leading ports to realise the folly of trying to kill the golden goose as soon as it had started laying eggs. He could have done better by asking the Hong Kong Government to supply him with a copy of its port charges for comparison. One also fails to see why Hutchison Whampoa subsidiary Hutchison International Terminals (HIT), which has a 62 per cent stake in YICT, did not advise Mr Zhu while the fee structure was being finalised before the YICT opened in July. HIT, after all, is the world's largest privately-owned container terminal operator, and manages YICT. According to Mr Zhu, the Chinese authorities were thinking of having a single fee. As the European port authorities rightly pointed out to Mr Zhu, a single fee is difficult to apply to all types of vessels, just as a flat fee cannot be levied on all types of motor cars. Fees have to vary from vessel to vessel, depending on such factors as the weight of the vessel and the time taken to inspect the vessel and its carrying capacity. The shipping community was right in crying foul when paying port fees in Shenzhen that were four times higher than those in Hong Kong, and will no doubt welcome a system that is fair. Shipping companies would like to see port fees that reflect the cost of building and operating the facilities and not ones which are set arbitrarily by cadres picking numbers from a hat. The success of China's ports will depend on their ability to bring operational standards to internationally acceptable levels. The same can be said about port charges.