Speaking with DairyReporter.com, a Hong Kong Customs official revealed that between 1 March and 29 April 2013 almost 1,000 people were arrested for attempting to smuggle infant formula out of the special administrative region – more than double the number of arrests it made for drug trafficking in 2012.
“Between 1 March and 29 April 2013, a total of 956 cases were detected at boundary control points involving the arrest of 976 persons and the seizure of about 9.296 kilogrammes of powdered formula,” said a statement from Hong Kong Customs.
Meanwhile, just 420 people were arrested by Hong Kong Customs officials in 2012 for attempting to smuggle a total of 1,269 kg of assorted drugs, including heroin.
Two years in prison or HK$500,000 fine
Infant formula from Hong Kong is popular among Chinese consumers who view it as a safer alternative to domestically-manufactured products.
Reports emerged earlier this year that Chinese mainlanders had begun buying large quantities of infant formula in Hong Kong before smuggling it back into China to sell at inflated prices. This led to an infant formula shortage in Hong Kong.
In an attempt to curb in the illegal export of infant formula into China, the Hong Kong government recently introduced the Import and Export (General) (Amendment) Regulation 2013, which prohibits the unlicensed export of powdered formula for infant and children under the age of 36 months from Hong Kong.
Under the amendment, which came into force on 1 March 2013, any person aged 16 or above may carry up to 1.8 kg of powdered formula. People convicted of illegally exporting excessive amounts of infant formula out of Hong Kong face up to two years in prison or a fine of up to HK$500,000 ($64,500, €49,000).
Through this rule change, customs officials in Hong Kong aim to “combat the problem of parallel trader diverting large quantities of powdered formula away from the supply chain in Hong Kong.”
Parallel trading activities being “effectively managed”
In addition to its detection efforts at border checkpoints, Hong Kong Customs has “cracked down on a number of syndicates which smuggled powdered formula by cross-boundary travellers.”
Referencing one case, Hong Kong Customs arrested five smugglers at Lowu Control Point on the Chinese border. Two “masterminds” of an infant formula smuggling syndicate were later detained.
These arrests led to the discovery of a warehouse containing over 4,000 kg of infant formula worth around HK$1.1m ($142,000, €108,000).
Despite the high arrest rate, Hong Kong Customs said that incidences of people illegally exporting infant formula have dropped since the rule change.
“After the new measures came into operation, the cases of persons leaving Hong Kong with large quantity of powdered formula have been substantially decreased and the livelihood problems caused by parallel trading activities have been effectively managed,” added the Hong Kong Customs statement.