Mainland parallel importers have hit back at criticism of their activities by the chairman of the tourism board, James Tien Pei-chun, calling it despicable and discriminatory.
The importers, who buy goods in Hong Kong for sale back across the border, insisted they were contributing to the city's economy through their activities.
Yesterday Tien attacked Shenzhen's deicision to relax travel-permit rules from next month, saying the move would lead to more mainlanders joining the parallel-imports business.
He said the border city should defer the launch of multiple-visit permits for its 4.1 million non-permanent residents.
Tien said many coming to Hong Kong with the permits would not be genuine visitors, but parallel importers or illegal workers.
Some of the 50 mainland parallel importers gathered around Sheung Shui station at noon yesterday said Tien's remarks were discriminatory and despicable.
One woman from Shenzhen said they had been contributing to Hong Kong's economy because they did not only resell milk powder and cosmetics to make a profit, but also shopped and ate in the city like tourists. "How can that not be beneficial to the [Hong Kong] economy?" she asked.
She has been helping take goods to a Shenzhen seller one day a week for the past year. She makes three trips a day, being paid 100 yuan for each trip.
While she criticised Tien's remarks as "discriminatory", she said she was concerned that the multiple-trip permits would harm her business because more mainlanders might join the trade.
Another Shenzhen woman said she was angry about Tien's remarks, asking: "What is he treating us mainlanders as?''
She said she had had enough of Hong Kong people's rude attitude every time she made a bulk purchase in a pharmacy.
This woman, who buys goods in Hong Kong to sell in her Shenzhen shop, and makes a profit of HK$20 on a can of milk powder, expects the number of mainlanders in the trade to increase fivefold under the new permit rules.
"It will be hard for Hong Kong's border control staff to handle the influx," she said.
The trade is popular despite a mainland law change last year meaning importers risk up to three years' jail for tax evasion.