Shenzhen eases border burdens

A SERIES of new measures to increase cross-border traffic with Hong Kong was announced by the Shenzhen Municipal Government yesterday.

They include the opening of two 24-hour-service passages at the Huanggang checkpoint - known as Lok Ma Chau on the Hong Kong side - and redeveloping the immigration and Customs hall at the Lowu checkpoint.

Twenty-four-hour Customs and immigration services will be available at the Huanggang checkpoint in August and the immigration and Customs facilities at the Lowu checkpoint are expected to double by next year.

The round-the-clock service is timed to coincide with the opening of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen expressway built by Hong Kong businessman Gordon Wu Ying-sheung.

The expressway, which will cut travelling time between Guangzhou and Hong Kong by more than half, is expected to carry traffic from July.

The Huanggang checkpoint will implement a new Customs declaration procedure from tomorrow to speed up traffic.

Shenzhen Vice-Mayor Zhang Hongyi said the expansion was urgently needed.

Last year, the Shenzhen Government recorded 6.79 million vehicles passing through the border, and as many as 40.95 million trips by people.

Other measures included the addition of two new checkpoints - Meilin and Tongle - on the demarcation line between Shenzhen and the rest of Guangdong, installation of X-ray and computer facilities to speed up inspection, and simplification of Customs declaration procedures at Shenzhen marine checkpoints.

In addition, foreigners will soon be able to stay in Shenzhen for as long as 72 hours without visas.

The last measure, Mr Zhang said, would be implemented as soon as Beijing gave its approval.

But he admitted a manpower shortage, lack of corresponding legislation and the complexity of the Customs and immigration procedures were slowing down the reform.

For instance, the Lowu checkpoint would not be able to provide commuters 24-hour services because of a manpower shortage.

''A lot of [government] departments are involved and these departments are all directly under the leadership of Beijing,'' Mr Zhang said. ''That's why we can only proceed step by step.'' Mr Zhang confirmed that the Government was studying a proposal to turn Shenzhen into a duty-free city by strengthening the management of the ''second border'' - a 126-kilometre-long barbed wire fence separating Shenzhen from the rest of Guangdong.