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Wed, Jan 18, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Singapore replaces Hong Kong as the busiest cargo port

AP , HONG KONG

Singapore has surpassed Hong Kong as the world's busiest container port by cargo volume for the first time since 1999, official statistics show.

However, an analyst questioned whether Singapore can stay on top for long, with China's booming economy and its ports in Shanghai and Shenzhen recording annual growth of more than 20 percent.

Hong Kong's Port Development Council said on Monday an estimated 22.43 million 20-foot-equivalent units (TEUs) -- a volume unit equal to a shipping container and used to measure cargo volume -- passed through the city's port facilities last year.

That figure was up just 2 percent from the previous year.

By comparison, Singapore handled 23.19 million TEUs last year -- up 8.7 percent from 2004 -- it's Maritime and Port Authority said.

This puts the city-state back on top spot after losing to Hong Kong every year since 1999.

The change comes as competition intensifies between Hong Kong and southern Chinese ports. In the mid-1990s, Hong Kong handled more than 90 percent of all cargo from the Pearl River Delta industrial hub. That share has rapidly fallen to about 50 percent.

"The slowing growth in Hong Kong's port isn't a surprise, considering the strong competition with ports in Shenzhen," said DBS Vickers analyst Oscar Choi, noting Shenzhen's "cheaper handling charges."

"As a result," he said, "Hong Kong's logistics industry ... is on a downtrend."

While Singapore's container-handling growth has outpaced Hong Kong's in recent years, analysts expect its growth to slow due to stiff competition from Malaysia, whose ports have lower handling charges.

Meanwhile, Shanghai and Shenzhen ports -- now the world's third- and fourth-busiest, respectively -- are recording rapid growth. Volume handled by Shanghai rose 24 percent to 18 million TEUs last year.

Choi said he expects Shenzhen's port, which handled 16.2 million TEUs last year, to become the second-busiest port by 2010.

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