The Chinese mainland will open five more ports for direct shipping service with Taiwan, bringing the total such ports to 68, a mainland transport official said Saturday.
The ports to be opened are in the provinces of Anhui, Shandong and Zhejiang, said Song Dexing, director of the Water Transport Department with the Ministry of Transport, at a round table meeting on direct shipping across the Taiwan Straits.
On Nov. 4 last year, the mainland-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) and the Taiwan-based Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) signed in Taipei protocols on direct shipping, air transport and postal services, which allowed regular civilian planes and ships to directly cross the Taiwan Straits. On Dec. 15, the "three direct links" were formally launched, ending a 59-year ban in this regard.
Under the earlier agreement, the mainland will open 63 ports to Taiwan ships while Taiwan will open 11, and the two sides might increase the number of ports based on a "developing situation."
At Saturday's meeting, Song also announced eight other moves the mainland will take to further boost the cross-Straits direct shipping, such as facilitating sandstone transport, exemption of some taxes, establishment of representative offices and enhancing maritime safety.
Analysts expressed Saturday positive views about the new measures, saying they would help boost the development of Taiwan's shipping industry.
"The shipping industry in the world is in a difficult situation due to global financial crisis, especially for Taiwan," said Sun Shengliang, of the Taiwan Studies Institute with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"The new preferential policies announced by the mainland can play a very important role in reducing costs, expanding earnings and overcoming difficulties for carriers from the two sides," he said.
According to Arnold Wang, chairman of the Evergreen Marine Corporation, a leading shipping company in Taiwan, the island's Kaohsiung harbor dropped to the 12th place in the world last year from the previous fourth place in terms of throughput. Thanks to direct shipping, the harbor's throughput had increased from 16,000 TEUs to 74,000 TEUs per month in the past several months, he said.
"Without direct shipping, the financial tsunami would have mauled Taiwan's shipping industry more heavily," he said. "We now have a deep feeling that economic and trade cooperation across the Straits is even more important and urgent than before."
Statistics show that more than 50 mainland ports had been opened for direct shipping service by the end of last month and altogether 125 vessels had enjoyed the service, Vice Minister of Transport Xu Zuyuan said.
"With the direct shipping service, more than 20 million tonnes of cargo had been transported across the Taiwan Straits from January to April and more than 30,000 hours had been saved compared with before, which provided a strong support for the two sides to jointly cope with the global financial crisis," he said.
Industry analysts believe that the exemption of business tax and corporate income tax will greatly encourage Taiwan carriers to participate in the direct shipping service and help fully implement the direct shipping agreement signed by the two sides.
"The taxes could be reduced by about 20 percent under the policy, which can bring substantial benefits for shipping companies," said Cai Min, general manger of the Fujian Xiamen Shipping Corporation.
But the Taiwan authorities are yet to promulgate similar measures, such as tax exemption and establishment of representative offices. Industry analysts and carriers from both sides expressed hopes Saturday that the authorities in Taiwan can also step up efforts in this regard and resolve the technical questions for an all-round direct shipping service as soon as possible.
"The announcement of the five more ports to be opened indicates that almost all the major ports on the mainland will be opened for direct shipping service with Taiwan," said Cao Xiaoheng, director of the Taiwan Economy Research Institute with the Tianjin-based Nankai University.
"That will push forward the peaceful development of cross-Straits relations," he said.
The round table meeting was held as one of the activities for the Straits Forum that opened Saturday in the mainland city Xiamen, which faces Taiwan across sea. About 150 participants from both sides attended the meeting.
The forum, to run until May 22, features 18 activities including the centerpiece conference, a trade fair, a cultural week, a tourism forum and a seminar on traditional Chinese medicine. It will be co-hosted by Fuzhou, Quanzhou and Putian, three cities in southeastern China's Fujian Province.
The week-long Straits Forum expects more than 8,000 Taiwan guests, including mayors and magistrates of 25 Taiwan cities and counties as well as heads of key trade organizations on the island.
(Xinhua News Agency May 17, 2009)