Summary of News
According to Time world news dated 4th February 2013, stocks of baby-milk powder have become alarmingly scarce in Hong Kong because of the activity of so-called gray-market traders from mainland border towns. They turn up in Hong Kong on multiple-entry tourist visas, often making several runs a day to buy up tins of formula from Hong Kong retail outlets and sell them back in the mainland, where the item commands a stiff premium. High import taxes in China have also created a thriving grey market for traders who buy products tax-free in Hong Kong and take them on crowded trains across the border on trolleys, in suitcases or stuffed in their jackets, to resell for a profit. Still, often it’s the personal and social issues that loom largest. Although authorities have finally cracked down on the practice — arresting and jailing several hundred “birth tourists” in 2012 — for years, local mothers were forced to compete for maternity-ward beds with mainland women who wanted to secure residency rights for their children by giving birth in the tiny territory. Thousands of those locally born children of mainland mothers have now reached primary-school age, further exacerbating tensions with local parents, who resent the new pressures on the school system. Since 2008’s contaminated-formula scare — in which hundreds of thousands of mainland babies fell ill after being fed Chinese-made formula and related products that had been adulterated with melamine — foreign milk-powder brands, such as those on sale in affluent Hong Kong, have been seen as safer. But while the desire of any parent to secure the best possible supplies of food for their children is understandable, the milk-formula issue has come to crystallize for Hong Kong people the disquieting ease with which the mainland is now no longer a brooding, remote power, at a distance behind the Kowloon hills, but instead an intrusive force in the daily life of this semiautonomous enclave. The dearth of formula in Hong Kong shops led the government to announce that, with effect from later this month, people leaving the city will only be allowed to take two cans of formula with them. The possibility of designating milk formula a “reserved commodity” like rice — meaning that its export would be restricted, price ceilings set and a reserve stock created — has also been mooted, alongside proposals to ban mainland visitors from entering Hong Kong more than once per day. Through a popular online forum for baby-related topics, Hong Kong mothers have banded together to report to one another on the availability of milk formula in stores around town, and to help buy whatever is available in their own neighborhoods and then meet up to trade with those in need. After the announcement of the impending two-can limit, many of the forum’s users expressed relief that something was being done but also anger at what they had been put through. The grubby, hectic hub of the business is Sheung Shui train station. Although activity there has quieted since the announcement of the government crackdown, it has not been unusual in recent weeks to see hundreds of traders snaking into the station entrance, with police looking on. Each trader pulls a cart loaded with large parcels of everyday commodities from diapers to toothpaste — but the most sought-after item is baby formula. A local English-language paper, the South China Morning Post, estimates a hard core of about 3,000 mainlanders engaged in the gray market. But the lack of faith in China’s food security is well founded, so even genuine tourists will often buy items like milk formula to give to relatives in the mainland. It must be said that a more porous border with China hasn’t been all bad for Hong Kong. In fact, mainland tourists have provided a much needed boost to Hong Kong’s economy ever since they were allowed individual entry for leisure purposes in 2003. (Before then, only tour groups and individuals on business could obtain...
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