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.
Police intervene as tempers rise over milk formula trade
Ada Lee in Shenzhen and Jolie Ho
Police intervened yesterday at Sheung Shui MTR station amid fears of a confrontation between parallel-goods traders carrying infant milk formula to the mainland and protesters waving the colonial Hong Kong flag.
As an elderly man angrily denied accusations he was a parallel-goods trader, his shouts drew in dozens of police officers, who escorted him from the scene.
Only a handful of parallel-goods traders were using the station, in stark contrast to previous days when a steady line of mainlanders could be seen heading for the border pushing trolleys laden with cans of milk formula.
The government announced on Friday it would amend the import and export law to limit every person departing Hong Kong to two cans, or 1.8kg, of milk powder. The measure is expected to take effect as soon as this month.
A 24-hour government hotline set up for parents to place orders for seven major formula brands had received 3,416 calls as of 5pm. About half the calls were referred to suppliers.
Dispensaries in Sheung Shui said the number of customers had dropped significantly following Friday's announcement.
"Hong Kong mothers now know they can call the government hotline to reserve powder milk, while some mainlanders thought the measure took effect from today," Mok Siu-hong, a shopkeeper at the Kwok Shing dispensary in Sheung Shui said, explaining the shop's decline in business.
About 150 people lined up outside a factory building in Tai Wai in Sha Tin, where an Australian brand distributed 300 cans of formula.
Li Li, who sells formula from Hong Kong in Shenzhen, said it had been "very difficult" to get hold of supplies recently. "With the new measures, all shops [across the border] selling Hong Kong products will have to close."
She said mothers living on the mainland should switch to a New Zealand brand that she carried, because it would become nearly impossible to get hold of the popular ones from Hong Kong.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying admitted the restriction was radical, but said the government would put the needs of Hongkongers first when it came to goods where supplies were running short.
Police chief Andy Tsang Wai-hung said the force would fully support staff of other government departments in implementing the new measures.
Food and health minister Dr Ko Wing-man said the government would monitor closely the effectiveness of the measures.