The new measures to restrict the amount of milk powder a traveller can bring across the border will take effect next month, the health minister says.
From March 1, people leaving the city will be limited to taking two cans, or 1.8kg, of infant formula, Food and Health Bureau Secretary Dr Ko Wing-man said yesterday, after the amendment to the import and export law was gazetted.
Under the new law, the person with the milk powder must be at least 16 years old and must not have left the city in the last 24 hours. Offenders face up to two years' jail and a fine of up to HK$500,000.
"There are opinions saying that the measures will affect the city's reputation as a free port," said Ko. "But [they are] the only means to ensure the supply of infant formula in the long term."
Parallel-goods trading activities have quietened in recent weeks, and the shortage on popular brands of milk powder has also ceased, local mothers said.
But Ko said he was certain the traders would return after the Lunar New Year.
A team of more than 200 staff members will be dispatched to conduct checks at the border. Many are retired personnel returning on a contract basis to cope with the added workload.
"This will surely dampen Hong Kong's image as a free market," said Lau Oi-kwok, the General Chamber of Pharmacy chairman, expressing his disappointment at the amendment.
The parallel-goods traders would still find ways of beating the system, and the best way to ensure local supply was to rely on the self-regulation of providers and retailers, he said.
A plan by milk producers and pharmacies to post a newspaper advertisement protesting the amendment was scrapped after Ko's announcement yesterday.
The new law bans the export of powdered formula for children under three years old except under an export licence or exemption.