The authorities in Beijing had "noted the views" of Hongkongers about the flood of visitors from Shenzhen, the commerce minister said yesterday after talks.
"Improvement measures" to the multiple-entry scheme for residents of the border city were under discussion, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung said following a meeting with mainland officials. However, the meeting reached no conclusions on the issue, he said.
There have been reports Hong Kong intends to restrict visits by Shenzhen permanent residents to five to eight a year under the multiple-entry permit scheme that now allows unlimited travel. Some people have suggested setting a limit on the number of trips allowed per day.
So said details of the "improvement measures" would be announced when the parties had reached a consensus.
"Hongkongers and the [tourism] sector have recently expressed their views and suggestions on the multiple-entry permit," So said after the three-hour meeting. "The central government has noted these views and is paying attention to the matter."
Last month, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said the government was "listening to views" about how to handle the influx of mainland visitors, which topped 40 million last year. The administration has forecast total visitor numbers could reach 100 million by 2023, a big majority of them from the mainland.
Rising visitor numbers have led to protests in Hong Kong about overcrowding on the streets and public transport and shops serving locals being priced out of some parts of the city.
A group formed by residents in North District says the multiple-entry permit, introduced in 2009, should be scrapped as the visitors were exploiting the scheme to carry parallel-traded goods to the mainland.
"This scheme is the reason why parallel trading is getting more and more robust to a point that it is disrupting the daily lives of local people," North District Parallel Imports Concern Group spokesman Ronald Leung-kam-shing said yesterday.
But the Hong Kong Retail Management Association said changing the multiple-entry rules could affect the city's image as a "shopping paradise". And a pharmacists' leader voiced fears.
"The impact of a restriction could be profound," Hong Kong General Chamber of Pharmacy committee member Cheung Tak-wing said. "The whole retail business may shrink."
Liberal Party lawmaker Vincent Fang Kang said visitors should be banned from making more than one return trip across the border a day.
Zeng, from Guangdong, who visits Hong Kong every week to shop and eat, said limiting her visits might cause inconvenience but would not have that big an effect, as such a move would primarily be aimed at parallel-goods traders. "If it becomes too inconvenient to travel to Hong Kong, I will go to Shenzhen," she said.
Additional reporting by Victoria Ann Duthie