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.
Customs drops charge against mainlander who carried baby cereal
Mainlander is spared a court trial because her rice milk cereal is not bound by the new rules
Ernest Kao and Stuart Lau
Customs will withdraw a charge against a mainland woman who was initially thought to be flouting Hong Kong's new two-tin cap on taking powdered infant milk formula out of the city.
Earlier, the Customs and Excise Department admitted that four tins of baby cereal the Jiangsu resident, Huang Xuejiao, was carrying on her exit were not covered under the new laws.
Huang would get back her bail money of HK$1,000 and her seized goods, the department said yesterday.
In question was a product labelled "rice-based milk cereal" that bore packaging similar to that of infant formula.
"After in-depth understanding, with information provided by the supplier, it is understood that the product serves as infants' introduction to solid food. And it is porridge-like after preparation," the department said.
"So the product is not regulated under the [new law] … This is a special case."
Last week, Huang was carrying two tins of milk formula - the maximum allowed under the law - and four tins of the Friso-brand cereals as she crossed the border at Lok Ma Chau, she wrote in a weibo post.
Customs officers detained her for a few* hours. They later charged her for breaching the law and said she could bail herself out.
Huang said she had asked them more than once whether powdered rice milk cereal was included in the rule. "They told me only milk powder was [part of the limit], and rice milk was not."
The department's change in stance means she does not have to appear in court next month.
Talking to the South China Morning Post, Huang said she still liked Hong Kong very much because it was "clean and orderly". She said she would find out more about the laws of any place she planned to visit.
"I understand they were just following procedures," she said.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said in Tianjin : "The Customs and Excise Department has explained the problems in enforcement. There are many products involved and customs officers will learn the lesson."
Rice milk, processed from rice grains, is an alternative for infants who cannot digest lactose or are allergic to cow's milk or soya milk. The new import and export rules limit all unlicensed exports of powdered formula for children under 36 months to two cans per outbound traveller. This includes any "milk or milk-like substance in powder form" including milk powder and soya milk powder, but rice milk is not mentioned.
Offenders face up to two years in jail and a HK$500,000 fine.
*Correction: An earlier version, as printed in Wednesday's paper, said Huang Xuejiao was detained by Hong Kong customs for 48 hours. She said she did not stay the night in custody because she bailed herself out for HK$1,000.