Beef back on shelves ... at a price

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2007, 12:00am

Fresh beef will be available in Hong Kong today but at higher prices after the end of a three-day boycott by dealers of Ng Fung Hong, the sole supplier of mainland cattle.

The row ended yesterday when Ng Fung Hong promised to keep the cattle supply at the normal level of 130 a day after beef dealers agreed to a wholesale price increase of 3.6 per cent.

The wholesale price will now range from HK$1,440 to HK$1,550 per 60kg.

'We accepted the wholesale price increase because our boycott has already harmed the interests of local customers,' said Yip Siu-kee, director of the Kowloon Beef and Mutton Merchants' Association.

'We are forced to accept the deal as Ng Fung Hong stated that it would be difficult to supply live cattle to the city without increasing the price when prices on the mainland are continuing to rise.'

But the burden will be transferred to customers as Mr Yip estimated the retail price of fresh beef would rise by HK$4 per catty (about 600 grams) to more than HK$40.

Association vice-director Pun Chee said the boycott cost the industry more than HK$1 million a day.

Mr Pun said beef dealers had to accept the wholesale price increases because Ng Fung Hong was the sole live cattle supplier.

He said the industry did not have consensus over whether Ng Fung Hong should hold the monopoly. Beef dealers might launch another boycott if supplies of live cattle were insufficient, Mr Pun added.

The row with Ng Fung Hong escalated on Sunday when dealers complained over a supply shortage and poor quality.

The dealers said daily cattle supplies had fallen from 130 head to fewer than 90 in recent months.

Yesterday, about 70 cattle were imported, bringing the total number of cattle available in the city to 170, the government said.

The Food and Health Bureau noted that the price of imported cattle had risen 40 per cent this year.

'We also learned that the Ministry of Commerce had already notified import and export enterprises to supply live cattle to Hong Kong proactively,' a spokeswoman for the bureau said.

The bureau said more studies were needed before opening up the cattle import market could be considered. Ng Fung Hong lost its monopoly of live pig imports last month after pork traders protested against its price increases.

Many of the beef stalls across the city remained closed yesterday due to lack of stock.