Parallel trading

Milk powder row triggers calls for review of visit scheme

It's time for a review, say lawmakers, with one suggesting an end to the multi-entry permits

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 February, 2013, 11:47am

Lawmakers are calling for a review of the controversial individual visit scheme for mainlanders amid the row over cross-border trading of baby milk powder.

The scheme, introduced in 2003, allows mainlanders to travel to Hong Kong on their own rather than in a tour group.

Tourism Board chairman and Liberal Party lawmaker James Tien Pei-chun said he welcomed measures to clamp down on trading of the milk powder, but called for an end to the scheme's multi-entry permits. He said visitors from Shenzhen should be limited to a single entry per day.

"The government should examine both the benefits and drawbacks of the individual visit scheme. Since the mainland parallel traders mainly come from Guangdong, the government should offer a single-entry permit per day for Shenzhen people."

The planned amendment to the legislation will not exempt children … to avoid a situation in which they are exploited by parallel traders

But Legislator and former security secretary Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said limiting mainlanders to a single-entry permit was not the way to go. "Offering a single-entry permit a day to mainlanders is not the best measure. Instead, the government should pass on the parallel traders' information to the mainland government for stricter regulation."

She called for a comprehensive review of the visitor scheme.

Andy Kwan Cheuk-chiu, an associate professor with Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the scheme had created jobs but did little for tourism. "The government created more than seven million jobs for low-skill workers from 2004 to 2010 under the individual scheme. But the tourism industry only accounts for 5 per cent of our GDP," Kwan said.

The government announced on Friday it would amend the import and export law to limit every person leaving Hong Kong to two cans, or 1.8kg, of milk formula. The measure is expected to take effect as soon as this month.

Children would not be exempted from that limit under the amended law, Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man told a television programme yesterday. "The planned amendment to the legislation will not exempt children … to avoid a situation in which they are exploited by parallel traders," Ko said.

More than 4,000 calls have been received by a 24-hour government hotline launched on Friday for parents to place orders for seven major milk formula brands. Some 2,300 callers were transferred to suppliers.

There was no trace of parallel traders at Sheung Shui MTR station yesterday afternoon - in sharp contrast to previous days, when a steady flow of mainlanders could be seen heading for the border, pushing trolleys laden with all sorts of goods.

And about 30 members of the North District Parallel Imports Concern Group protested at stations on the East Rail Line yesterday. At Tai Po Market station, they handed out leaflets and held banners reading "Restore Hong Kong, give me back the milk powder", and "One visa, one admission to kick parallel traders away". Spokesman Leung Kim-shing said: "The measures put forward by the government only focus on the shortage of milk formula. There's room for improvement for combating parallel-goods traders."