SCMP Saturday, November 10, 2001

Border extension a boost for trade and transport


Businessmen and transport operators last night welcomed the decision to extend opening hours at mainland border crossings.
Others warned that the move could cost Hong Kong business and drive down property prices in the New Territories.
From December 1, the Lowu and Lok Ma Chau checkpoint opening hours will be extended from 11.30pm to midnight.
The Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation said it was ready for an expanded cross-border market. More than 235,000 travellers cross the border at Lowu daily.
"The extension of the border opening hours by 30 minutes . . . still leaves sufficient time for overnight maintenance work to be carried out," a spokesman said.
The KCRC announced that from December 1, the last Lowu-bound East Rail train would leave Hunghom at 11.07pm, while the last train returning from Shenzhen would leave at 12.30am.
The Hongkong Guangdong Boundary Crossing Bus Association said the extension would allow the trade to take overseas business travellers across the border late in the evening.
Some travellers, especially those from Taiwan with businesses in Dongguan and Shenzhen, now use Macau to enter the mainland at night as the checkpoint there closes at midnight.
The Lok Ma Chau China-Hong Kong Freight Association supported the introduction of additional goods clearance lanes at Lok Ma Chau between 10pm and midnight.
"At present, when all but one lane ceases operation after 10pm, it takes four to five hours to cross the border and many SAR-bound truck drivers prefer to stay overnight on the mainland," chairman Chiang Chi-wai said.
An estimated 21,700 vehicles use the Lok Ma Chau checkpoint every day. About half of them are container trucks and 40 per cent are goods vehicles.
President of the Hong Kong Association of Business and Trade, Eddy Lee Sau-hang, said the new measures were convenient for business.
Some groups feared the impact on Hong Kong's economy.
Truck driver and chairman of the Lok Ma Chau China-Hong Kong Freight Association, Chiang Chi-wai, warned the extension would affect local restaurants.
"Hong Kong travellers may hang around on the mainland later than before and have dinner in Shenzhen because it is cheaper," he said.
Regional sales manager of real estate agent Centaline in Fanling, Angus Hui Wai-pong, predicted the extension would lead to a five per cent drop in property prices in the northern New Territories. "Flats across the border are 70 per cent cheaper than in Fanling and prices on the Hong Kong side may drop slightly as a result of the slightly longer opening hours," he said.
Both the Immigration and Customs and Excise departments said they would aim to absorb the extra workload.