Producers and suppliers of baby milk formula have lashed out at the government over what they say is an "extreme" export restriction that hurts smaller brands.
They say the shortage in Hong Kong that prompted a new two-tin, or 1.8kg, limit on the product being taken out of the city relates only to a few big-name brands - and it should just be a temporary measure. Their complaints came after the government refused to say it would end the restriction, aimed at thwarting parallel-goods traders from the mainland whose activities were believed to have caused a severe shortage of two formula brands last month.
But representatives of the two brands that sold out - Mead Johnson and Friso - declined to attend a special panel meeting of the Legislative Council yesterday.
At the meeting, lawmakers attacked suppliers for failing to ensure a stable supply. "There was a need for the government to do something," said deputy food and health secretary Philip Chan Kwan-yee. "The two formulas that were out of stock account for 60 per cent of the local market."
Chan defended the new restriction, saying it breached neither the Basic Law nor World Trade Organisation regulations.
Customs and Excise assistant commissioner Yu Koon-hing said there had been 201 offenders since March 1, when the rule took effect, but fewer travellers were trying to carry excess formula and the cap should continue.
Suppliers Association chairman Albert Tang disagreed: "There are many better ways to tackle this problem."
Snow Brand and Wyeth Nutrition said their products had never been in short supply and called for the rule to be reviewed. Mead Johnson, in a statement last night, agreed.