Coping with constraints in China

China has become the focal point for trade to and from the U.S., Europe and intra-Asia. This rapid rise in stature has added substantial volumes of cargo to the country's ports and airports (and moving on its internal transportation network). The central government, along with various regional and local governments, are all attempting to deal with the problems created by growth. They are joined by private-sector firms that are adding their own capacity throughout Asia.

In 2001, China had 1.4 million km (870,000 miles) of highways and 19,000 km (11,800 miles) of expressways — nearly 16% of which were completed that year. The Ministry of Communication was on track to add 1.6 million km (1 million miles) of highways and 25,000 km (15,500 miles) of expressways by 2005.

Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals (HACTL) reported a 3.3% increase in cargo throughput in March 2005, reaching 210,905 tonnes.

Firstquarter figures rose 3% to 532,348 tonnes. These numbers compare with a "particularly strong" first half in 2004, which led HACTL to observe that slower growth was not unexpected.

In April, Hong Kong Air Cargo Industry Services Ltd. (HACIS) announced the addition of a new Inland Cargo Depot at Dongguan (Humen). HACIS offers a scheduled consolidated trucking service daily from SuperTerminal 1 to its customs bonded warehouse in Dongguan.

The Port of Shanghai has been averaging 29% per year growth in cargo volumes, in part because of its position at the mouth of the Yangtze River, where many of the goods for import and export are routed. The Yangtze River estuary is constrained by its 23-foot depth, allowing containerships to enter and leave only during high tide and excluding the latest containerships altogether.

Shanghai's solution has been to develop the deep-water capabilities of Yangshan Island, which has a draft of 49 feet. The project to link the large and small islands (DaYangShan and HsiaoYangShan) to the mainland includes a bridge nearly 20 miles long. When completed, the port will include a 50-berth container area and an eight-lane bridge.

Despite these efforts, it is already clear the bridge will be congested by the heavy container traffic moving to and from the deep-water port, says Brian Lutt, regional president Asia/Middle East for APL Logistics. There are, however, feeder vessel services that already move containers in 120-TEU, self-propelled barges, he notes.

Hu Huang, director of international logistics and customs compliance for Kichler Lighting, tried feeder vessels when moving goods from Xiaman to Hong Kong, but at that time (1998), the vessel took five to seven days. Now the choice is to move by truck in two days or the updated feeder vessel service in three.

Draft problems aren't limited to China ports. In an unusual case, industry reports indicate at least one shipping line cancelled two vessels scheduled to call at the Port of Melbourne (Australia) when it learned the local government was deferring a decision on channel deepening.

Given China's role in global trade, its fifth busiest port — Guangzhou — has focused attention on draft and the need to clear its channel of some shallow areas. The port had planned to dredge the channel to 41 feet by 2005 and 49 feet after that. The port's position north of the Pearl River Delta places it in the heart of a growing manufacturing and consuming area, so local officials are also looking at links to the national rail network that connects Guangzhou to Shenzhen, Sanshui and Beijing.

At least three major rail projects center on Hong Kong. The east rail line is an important trunk line and has undergone improvements. The west rail line operates through flood-prone sections of Hong Kong's New Territories and will require elevated lines. The west rail line is more heavily passenger-oriented than its eastern counterpart. As part of the larger scheme, Mongkok Freight Terminal is being redeveloped and a new freight handling facility was being developed on reclaimed land in Hung Hom Bay.

Kichler's Huang reports that she has seen increasing congestion at Hong Kong's port. In addition, it faces growing competition from mainland Chinese ports — the ports of Chiwan and Yan Tian are expanding to handle more container traffic. Construction on Container Terminal 9 was completed at the end of 2004 and added six berths and a design throughput of 2.6 million TEUs. The Hong Kong Container Terminal Operators Association says it believes the actual throughput of Terminal 9 will be higher, based on expected improvements in productivity and efficiency.

All-water services through the Suez Canal are attempting to supplement U.S. West Coast services and avoid some U.S. port congestion by reaching East Coast ports. In addition to a number of announcements of East Coast U.S. service, Mexico has stepped up to offer alternatives to U.S. ports. TMM Lines has launched a Central America-Asia trans-shipment service that links Lazaro Cardenas, Puerto Caldera (Costa Rica) and Puerto Quetzal (Guatemala).

And not to ignore air, Cathay Pacific has launched an air cargo direct service from Atlanta to Hong Kong.

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