The influx of parallel traders who buy their stock tax-free in Hong Kong to resell it in mainland China at a profit is causing growing unrest. Residents of Sheung Shui, a town close to China's border, say the increase in parallel importers has pushed up retail prices and causes a general nuisance. Importers argue that their trade benefits the Hong Kong economy.
Parallel traders moving to Tai Po from Sheung Shui, councillors say
Traffic at MTR stations is getting heavier, a result of a crackdown in Sheung Shui, some say
The nuisance of parallel trading has spread from border towns to Tai Po, where district councillors are complaining about shortages of baby formula for sale and the authorities' failure to crack down on the phenomenon.
Dozens of traders, speaking Putonghua and non-Hong-Kong variations of Cantonese, have surfaced in recent weeks around the Tai Wo and Tai Po Market MTR stations.
They were easy to spot at Tai Wo yesterday, pushing trolleys heavily loaded with merchandise to resell at a profit across the border. Their loads included cartons of soft drinks and boxes of Ferrero Rocher chocolates.
Clearly unfamiliar with Tai Wo, some asked photo-taking journalists for directions to the train station.
Councillors said the traders posed a danger to children and the elderly because of the aggressive way they pushed their heavy carts. The "nuisance-makers" appeared in Tai Po after the government cracked down on them in September in Sheung Shui and other northern towns, they said.
"As law enforcement agencies made more of an effort last year, these traders moved [here]," councillor Wong Yung-kan told a Tai Po district council meeting yesterday. But Donald Li Chi-chung, the Tai Po police division commander, said it was too early to say the clampdown had driven the problem to Tai Po.
"Whether such activities have intensified in Tai Po, we are keeping an eye on it," Li said. "They had existed even before the raids in Sheung Shui." A team of four officers would investigate the goings-on in Tai Po, he said.
Another councillor, Yam Kai-pong, said he was personally affected by the local parallel trading. His wife gave birth on December 30, and Yam is finding it difficult, as a Tai Po resident, to buy milk formula.
"I went to as many as six local pharmacies around here, but none offered the brands I wanted," he said. "Finally I found one near Sham Shui Po."
But one pharmacy owner, who asked not to be named, told the South China Morning Post that the shortage of milk powder was caused by individual mainland mothers' shopping rather than by parallel traders.
In Tai Wo, no MTR staff were seen checking luggage yesterday, despite a 32kg weight limit introduced last year to curb the transport of goods in bulk.
Meanwhile, two Hongkongers, suspected to be employers, and 35 mainlanders were arrested in Sheung Shui.
Immigration and police officers said 28 men and seven women, aged between 20 and 61, allegedly breached their conditions of stay by being involved in suspected parallel goods trading in the Advanced Technology Centre. Officers seized cartons of health food and cosmetics.
On the web, groups vowed to gear up tomorrow for another street protest against parallel traders in Sheung Shui because the problem there had remained.