By Herbert Chan

A temporary market aimed at mainland tourists near the Lok Ma Chau boarder was planned to ease the parallel trading problem in Hong Kong. Although the plan had the full support of the government, it was questioned by many over its long-term effectiveness on alleviating congestion.

Since 2012, the problem of parallel trading in Hong Kong became more serious. Through multi-entrancing within a day, travelers separated goods into smaller boxes and exported them to the mainland. They would
claim the products were for selfuse, earning “transporting charges” in each run, causing huge social disturbance in those “hub” districts.

“Reclamation Campaign”, which demonstrated against parallel trading, was started in multiple places, including Shatin, Yuen Long and Sheung Shui, causing clashes between local groups, police and pro-establishment groups, with dozens arrested.

Meanwhile, a possible solution may appear when two developers, Sun Hung Kai Properties and Henderson Land Development, confirmed a plan to set up a temporary market in a 420,000 square feet site near the Lok Ma Chau boarder. They described it as an outdoor shopping center set up by containers, charging only HK$1 rent, and building a permanent mall two years later.

Owner of Henderson Land Development, Lee Shau-kee claimed the market can attract mainland shoppers, which could help diverting tourists and ease the congestion problem in the Northern District.

Though So Kam-leung, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development embraces the project, locals have differing opinions.

Leung Kam-shing, spokesman for the North District Parallel Imports Concern Group, described the planned temporary market as “smugglers’ paradise. “We are strongly against the setup of the market. I think the
market is only serving for the smugglers (parallel traders). What thegovernment (is doing) is encouraging them to break the law,” he said.

Mr. Chan, owner of a pharmacy in Yuen Long, said that 70% of the income came from the mainlanders. He is worried that the temporary market would affect his business. “To my shops and many others, mainland shoppers are our major customers. If they really set up another larger mall near the border, it would definitely give us a big hit,” he said.

Besides, Yuen Long rural leader Leung Fuk-yuen also showed concern that the market would lead to unemployment in Yuen Long and Sheung Shui. He believed that the market could not be the ultimate solution on parallel trading, and the government should pay more attention to improving community planning.

“I don’t think it will help a lot,” said Mr Ng, a citizen living in Yuen Long. “There are more important factors that attract mainlanders to buy our goods; the prices, accessibility and quality of products. That’s why the government should cancel multiple entry visa policy to stop them from coming because their behaviors are very annoying.”

Are parallel trading activities illegal? Although the government has been arresting parallel traders according to “Permission to land and conditions of stay”, the action of visitors or local shoppers buying large amounts of products and exporting them to the mainland is not illegal in Hong Kong in accordance with the Immigration Ordinance.

In fact, only the evasion of related tax while entering the mainland breaks the law. Since such violations must occur over the border, which is under Chinese law enforcement jurisdiction, Hong Kong only acts as intelligence coordinators. Thus, though Mainland Hong Kong had few joint operations and arrested a few hundred people, it is difficult to solve the problem completely.

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