More measures against parallel traders

Updated: 2012-09-21 06:55

By Violetta Yau (HK Edition)

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A movement for "reclaiming lost territories" has broken out in the city all of a sudden, calling for residents in Sheung Shui, a neglected district near the border, to protest against mainland parallel traders. If not for the scuffles that erupted last week, when hundreds of local residents took to the street and clashed with mainland traders, many of us would have no idea that this secret warfare has escalated to a tipping point that warrants strong and immediate action from both local and mainland authorities.

If the rampant parallel trading by mainlanders is not addressed, as with any movements which later turned into social crises, this movement may eventually deepen the antagonistic sentiments toward mainlanders to a point of no return. The protests are not only about a rivalry over resources. What is happening underlines the growing conflicts between Hongkongers and mainlanders, that could cause irreparable damage to the city's economic integration with the mainland, and the operation of "One Country, Two Systems".

In fact, Sheung Shui residents have every justifiable reason to vent their anger and grievances. Many were forced to move to this remote district closest to the border, in search of more affordable properties and rents. Here they enjoy lower rent and prices, as well as a tranquil and quiet environment. But what has this once peaceful little town turned into now? It seems to have become a paradise for mainland parallel traders.

Nowadays anyone who walks past the Sheung Shui station cannot avoid stumbling at every turn and feeling disturbed by the amazing scene. There are throngs of traders with cartloads of parallel goods swarming the sidewalks at train stations, turning the area into what looks like a flea market. An eye-dazzling array of products, ranging from iPads, milk powder, mobile phones, cosmetics, and handbags, is scattered here and there, with traders shouting and pushing each other, creating safety concerns. They snap up household goods in bulk for trading across the border. Gone are the days when Sheung Shui residents could enjoy cheap rent, prices and peace.

True, parallel trading is not new to the city. For decades, locals have been trafficking in parallel goods across the border to make quick money. The difference now is that their territory is now taken and occupied by mainland traders who ply their trade by abusing the loopholes in the individual visit scheme. Not only do local people fail to enjoy all the benefits generated by the thriving parallel imports business, they also have to bear all the bad consequences - the nuisance, disturbance, hygiene and safety problems, and higher prices and rent. To the dismay of many, Sheung Shui has been effectively turned into a parallel trading town with mainlanders as the sole beneficiaries.

The main problem is, the authorities have not taken this matter seriously. Since parallel imports are not illegal, the residents feel that they have nobody to turn to for help, with regard to eradicating parallel trading. In the face of complaints against parallel imports, both the police and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department tend to shrug them off and say that there is nothing they can do.

It is obvious that the police, the Immigration Department and the environmental hygiene officers should step up co-operation, to crack down on illegal parallel trading by mainlanders. These authorities should be given greater latitude to prosecute mainland traders who breached their condition of stay and to confiscate their parallel-imported goods. Achieving this will require that they step up patrols and ambush operations.

The Immigration Department should also refer a blacklist of traders to the mainland authorities to ban those individuals from entering Hong Kong again. In fact, as Tourism Board chief James Tien has suggested, the government can consider changing the multiple-entry permit into a single-entry permit which allows only one entry to the city per day.

Following a visit by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to Sheung Shui, the government pledged to impose tougher measures in the crackdown on parallel trading. This immediate action should be applauded. However, the government should keep this passion going and guard against sliding back to a state of indifference.

The author is a current affairs commentator.

(HK Edition 09/21/2012 page3)