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Asia Business: The Week Ahead

Companies controlled by Hong Kong's richest man ran into some legal and financial hurdles this week. Standard and Poor's is lowering its rating on Hong Kong's Hutchison Whampoa and its parent company, Cheung Kong Holdings. The credit agency says it made the decision based on debt concerns tied to Hutchison's launch of third generation, or three-G, mobile phone services in Europe.

A separate legal and financial dispute is brewing over that three-G venture. Hutchison is suing its European partner, KPN, alleging the Dutch phone company failed to meet financial obligations related to the venture.

In turn, KPN says Hutchison breached a shareholder agreement related to funding the three-G venture, and is demanding Hutchison buy out KPN's 15-percent stake. Hutchison, which is owned by Hong Kong's wealthiest tycoon, Li Ka-shing, says that demand is without merit.

The Hong Kong Airport Authority says the worst of the territory's air travel slump is probably over.

Passenger traffic at Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok airport plunged almost 80 percent for the month of May compared with a year earlier. Most airlines slashed flights to and from Hong Kong because of the SARS outbreak in Asia.

David Pang, the head of the Airport Authority, says a $13 million revitalization package is starting to take effect. For next month, at least 270 flights each week will be resumed. Mr. Pang says he is still working to generate traffic. "For example, we have a project specifically working with Cathay Pacific - how to bring the transfer passenger back," he says. "Transfer passenger account for about 50 percent of Cathay Pacific's passenger traffic."

A ship-building dispute between South Korea and the European Union is headed to a World Trade Organization arbitration panel.

The EU says Seoul unfairly subsidizes shipyards through favorable financing by the government-owned Korean Export-Import Bank. South Korea denies the allegation.

South Korean shipbuilders have grabbed 36 percent of the world market in recent years - while the EU share has dropped to just eight percent.