Improved guidelines will be issued to help customs officers enforce the two-tin infant milk formula limit at the border, but the government will make no more efforts to refine the legislation.
The health minister said this yesterday after the closure on Wednesday of a Legislative Council meeting that was to have scrutinised government and lawmakers' amendments to the bill.
"The infant formula restriction will continue to take effect in its original form," Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said. "But we will provide improved guidelines for frontline officers at the border to assist them in enforcing the law and avoid confusion." Ko said officers would be given a new list of restricted products with pictures and the Health Department would set up a hotline for queries. But the government would not propose another amendment as it was "too time-consuming".
The Legco meeting was suspended on Wednesday night because it lacked a quorum.
Ko said the government had no intention of lifting the restriction - brought in to curb cross-border parallel-goods traders and ease shortages - but promised a review after six months.
Lawmakers said new guidelines were not adequate to clear confusion while the legislation remained unchanged. Democratic Party member James To Kun-sun said another amendment should be tabled.
The Labour Party's Cyd Ho Sau-lan said the legislation was too vague. "It defines baby milk formula as anything that looks like milk formula. That is creating a lot of confusion," she said.
The Hong Kong Infant and Young Child Nutrition Association, formed by six major formula brands, said it was disappointed and urged an end to restrictions.
And the Customs Officers Union said the legislation should be amended to avoid confusion.
The curb, which since March 1 has prevented people leaving Hong Kong from carrying more than two tins of infant formula, came under fire after travellers with such products as rice pudding were arrested.
The government's amendment, now lapsed, refined the definition of "powdered formula" and specified that it was for "persons of any age under 36 months". Lawmakers, including Ho, had proposed a "sunset clause" to end the curb after a specified time.