Smuggling of Kiwi milk into China targeted

Last updated 05:00 03/02/2013

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Authorities cracking down this weekend on the smuggling of New Zealand infant formula out of Hong Kong into China after mothers in Hong Kong appealed to the White House and United Nations for help in securing the food for their babies.

Hong Kong is also targeting parallel importers of Karicare Aptamil Gold and Nutricia amid allegations Chinese students are smuggling it from Auckland and Australia.

A 900 gram can sells in New Zealand for $17 to $22; parallel traders outside Hong Kong's Sheung Shui MTR station demand HK$561 ($86) a can - a near 400 per cent profit.

On Friday police and immigration officials raided Sheung Shui and arrested six traders. Police also prevented some travellers from taking up to 400 cans of milk to the mainland.

Activists have been on the lookout for cross-border traders and those carrying lots of milk powder. Chanting slogans, the group urged authorities to prevent people without Hong Kong ID cards from buying milk powder. One activist, Vincent Lau, said "mainlanders have been stealing our resources to an unbearable extent".

The South China Morning Post quoted a Chinese woman saying her friends in Shenzhen asked her to buy cans of formula: "Every time I come, I carry as many cans as I can."

Many pharmacies in Hong Kong were sold out but outside one, the Post found a Chinese woman and her son packing 40 tins of formula into bags. "My children are grown, but I give these as gifts to family members for the [Chinese] New Year," she said. "I bought some extra when I heard the Government was thinking of restricting purchases."

Measures expected to limit the sale to Hong Kong residents are in contrast to the drama Beijing authorities created a week over the discovery of traces of the chemical dicyandiamide in small amounts of Fonterra milk powder. There were suggestions that the tainting could lead to a drop in demand for New Zealand milk, but the Hong Kong experience suggest there was a desperate shortage of infant formula at least.

A group of Hong Kong mothers recently wrote to the UN seeking help to get infant formula and they have even posted a petition on the White House's website. A minimum 100,000 signatures are necessary before a February 28 deadline to trigger a response from the White House.

"Local parents in Hong Kong can hardly buy baby formula milk powder in drugstores and supermarkets, as smugglers from mainland China storm to this tiny city to buy milk powder and resell for huge profits in China," the petition says.

"Many retailers stockpiled milk powder and are reluctant to sell to local parents as the shops can sell their stocks in big cartons to a mainland smuggler for huge profits."

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It says New Zealand and other countries ration sales to Chinese tourists but Hong Kong would not.

Some online chat-rooms in China feature "baby powder shopping tours" to Hong Kong. They also offer information on prices for milk formula and diapers and availability in specific outlets.

- Sunday Star Times

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