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.
10 held for exceeding two-tin milk limit
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A least 10 people have been arrested at the border checkpoints for breaching a new restriction on milk formula that came into force yesterday.
They were carrying a total of 53 tins of infant formula between them - eight Hongkongers and two mainlanders. They were arrested at the Lo Wu, Lok Ma Chau and Lok Ma Chau Spur Line checkpoints.
In one case, a Hong Kong woman stashed 15 cans of milk powder in a suitcase. And in another, a Hong Kong man was arrested for taking two cans of formula on his second departure within 24 hours.
Yu Koon-hing, assistant commissioner of customs in Hong Kong, said 200 extra customs officers had been deployed and 14 more X-ray machines were operating at the borders to enforce the new law.
The extra staff include 96 retired customs officers who have returned on six-month contracts.
"Cans and packs of milk formula can easily be identified when luggage goes through the X-ray machines," said Yu. "These machines can help make inspections more precise and we hope our checks won't create any inconvenience for the public."
He noted that the retired officers had over 30 years' experience and would check anyone who seemed suspicious and may be trying to hide milk formula under their clothes.
Yu also said there would be more inspections of cars, since there had been four cases involving the unlicensed export of milk powder in cars this week.
Travellers aged at least 16 can take only two cans, or 1.8kg, of milk formula out of Hong Kong in an effort to deter traders who buy the products for resale in Shenzhen. And they must not have left the city in the previous 24 hours.
Offenders face a maximum fine of HK$500,000 and imprisonment of up to two years.
Meanwhile, parallel-goods traders lugging cartons of the formula were nowhere to be seen at Sheung Shui station yesterday.
Mok Siu-hong, an employee of Kwok Shing Dispensary in Sheung Shui, said fewer people were buying the milk powder. Mok said the store's sales fell by 30 to 40 per cent on the first day of the new law.
"One customer bought three boxes of infant formula, with 12 cans of milk powder in each box, yesterday," he said.
"But today, people are only buying one to two cans."