The Trade and Industry Department briefed about 70 rice importers yesterday on new registration requirements for importing mainland rice. Since last Thursday, firms intending to import mainland rice have had to register and undertake that the rice would not be re-exported. The registration system was introduced with a series of export controls invoked for cereals, grain flour and rice by the mainland's Ministry of Commerce in February to ensure the stability of food supplies and prices. It issued a notice saying grain could be provided to Hong Kong, but it warned of penalties for anyone diverting shipments to other markets. Ngai Wing-chit, deputy director general of Trade and Industry, said there was no guarantee that a registered importer would obtain a specific quantity of rice at a specific price from mainland suppliers. But the system would 'at least guarantee that there would be no procedural problem' for registered enterprises to import rice from the mainland. 'In practice, where importers go to [import rice, and] at what prices they are purchasing rice are business arrangements and considerations.' The quota for mainland rice exports to Hong Kong and Macau was set at 50,000 tonnes this year, far above the 15,700 tonnes exported to Hong Kong last year, which accounted for 4.7 per cent of the city's total rice imports. About 18,500 tonnes of mainland rice were imported in 2006 and 13,000 tonnes in 2005. Three local enterprises applied for registration last week and 10 other rice importers filed registration applications yesterday. One of them was Yim Chun-wah, who stopped trading Chinese rice more than 10 years ago as Thai rice became more popular. 'Mainland rice now has a price advantage.' Mainland rice is about 10 per cent cheaper than Thai rice at the retail level. Golden Resources Development operations director Anthony Lam Sai-ho, a member of the department's customer liaison group for rice, said the new arrangement could 'dampen the chance of people bidding up rice prices' because imported rice would be for local consumption. However, it would not curb price increases because that was a global problem. Meanwhile, Vietnam Food Association chairman Truong Thanh Phong said the association, Vietnam's major food exporter, could supply 'as much rice as Hong Kong needs'. He said Vietnam had not imposed export quotas on rice.