Parallel trading

Arrests of parallel traders brings calm to Sheung Shui

Swoop on 131 mainland dealers brings a sigh of relief from commuters as the queues of loaded trolleys that have blighted their lives disappear

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 September, 2012, 3:41pm

For once, commuters using Sheung Shui station yesterday didn't have to find a way past queues of traders' trolleys.

The worst congestion vanished after Wednesday's swoop on 131 mainlanders involved in the parallel-goods trade.

The chaotic scenes of recent weeks, which sparked protests from frustrated locals were over.

They were angered by the thousands of mainland traders who crossed the border every day to buy goods in Hong Kong for resale in Shenzhen.

Locals accused them of driving up the prices of daily necessities by buying goods in bulk to dodge high mainland taxes.

But yesterday, the largest trolleys carrying bulky foodstuffs such as baby milk formula and mooncakes that have clogged public areas around the station were missing.

One MTR checker, responsible for measuring baggage and keeping over-large items off the trains, said he handled "very few" carriers.

Perhaps unaccustomed to the relative silence, he chatted with reporters and said the queue of traders had previously appeared before noon, peaking between 3pm and the early evening. But yesterday, many residents finally enjoyed the calm they had longed for.

Felix So, a fifth-form pupil who lives in Sheung Shui and passes the station twice a day, said: "The situation looks so much different today - it seems improved. There were no chaotic masses of trolleys around."

The remaining traders in the border town seemed to focus on packing less bulky items into the backpacks of several dozen paid carriers - seasoned locals and daring mainlanders alike.

A popular item was the iPhone 4S, which is being superseded by the new iPhone 5. One person was seen sitting near the station, stuffing a dozen iPhones into his bag.

A nearby bicycle parking area, as usual, was taken over by a cluster of distributors and their piles of boxes - mostly containing electronic products.

In Fanling, one train stop from Sheung Shui, a few groups of parallel traders were spotted yesterday. They said they were all Hong Kong residents. Food and Environmental Hygiene Department officers monitored their activities during the morning.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor praised the effectiveness of Wednesday's raid, a joint operation by police, immigration and fire officers who stormed the Advanced Technology Centre, a warehouse near the station used by traders. All but one of the arrested mainlanders, who are still under investigation, were packing goods almost certainly destined for the mainland.

Lam, who chaired a cross- departmental taskforce on the issue, vowed to carry out more sudden crackdowns on the traders' sources of supply.