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Taiwan seaports see business beyond the financial tsunami

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwan's three major seaports are expecting business to soar as a result of the newly established direct shipping links between Taiwan and China, despite the drag effect of the global economic crisis.

According to the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) , Taiwan's export trade slumped substantially in the last quarter of 2008, with the steepest decline of 41.9 percent year-on-year recorded in December.

Kaohsiung Harbor, Taiwan's largest seaport, handled 9.67 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) in 2008, representing a decline of 6 percent from 2007, when 10.25 million TEUs were handled, according to the DGBAS tallies.

Keelung Harbor, the largest seaport in northern Taiwan, handled 2.05 million TEUs in 2008, marking a year-on-year decline of 7.23 percent from 2.21 TEUs in 2007.

Taichung Harbor, the largest seaport in central Taiwan, handled 1.23 million TEUs last year, down 0.67 percent from 2007 when 1.247 million TEUs were handled.

The recent launch of direct cross-strait shipping links — in accordance with one of the four agreements sealed by Taiwan and China on Nov. 4, 2008 — has helped cut shipping and other costs by 15-30 percent, said officials from the Department of Navigation and Aviation under the Ministry of Transportation and Communications.

If it were not for the launch of the cross-strait shipping links, the slump have been bigger, in the face of the global economic upheaval, the officials said.

Since the shipping links took effect on Dec. 15, 2008, all three major seaports have reported increases in both the number of vessels calling and the volume of containers handled, according to the officials.

Citing Kaohsiung Harbor statistics, they said that 175 vessels called at the harbor between Dec. 15-31, 2008, representing 34 percent growth as compared to the figure posted between Dec. 1 and Dec. 14.

During the two-week period, the volume of containers that Kaohsiung Harbor handled also increased by 20 percent to 164,000 TEUs.

Keelung Harbor also reported growth during the 15-day period, with the number of vessels calling increasing by 21 percent from 319 to 388, and the volume of containers handled increasing from 62,000 TEUs to 76,000 TEUs.

Taichung Harbor reported a whopping increase of 200 percent in the number of vessels calling, up from 18 to 54, and a 113 percent increase in the volume of containers handled, up from 3,231 TEUs to 6,887 TEUS.

After nearly six decades, Taiwan and China on Dec. 15, 2008 resumed daily direct passenger flights, direct cargo flights and direct shipping links, a development seen by many as a step toward ending decades of hostilities and cutting the cost of travel and trade between the two sides.

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