“Parallel traders” ferry goods across the border from Hong Kong into Mainland China for a small profit. They’re taking advantage of differences in price, availability, and (perceived and real) safety between goods in the Hong Kong and China. Those Mainland ladies I ran into on the East Rail line several weeks ago were probably parallel traders. The Sheung Shui MTR station — the last one in advance of the official border crossing — is awash in middle-age Chinese traders re-packing their goods and trying to figure out how to look nonchalant while dragging a handcart full of baby formula across the border.
The authorities have recently cracked down on parallel trading, but for those still willing to take the risk, there is a slightly increased (but still slim) profit to be made. As the South China Morning Post explained this weekend:
Parallel traders set different market prices for each category of goods, according to their difficulty to carry, conceal and get past the authorities.
Before the crackdown, traders kept HK$15 [just under US$2] for transporting a case of Yakult, a fermented milk drink popular in Guangdong. Now, they get HK$20. A pack of cigarettes has increased to HK$4 from HK$3.
Given the current difficulties getting things past customs, and this weekend’s Mid-Autumn Festival, some traders are concentrating on a seasonal specialty:
“Now, carrying Taipan Snowy mooncakes are the best deal. We should focus on mooncakes, since it’s easy to carry one or two dozen each time and it’s a good excuse to say they are presents for family members and friends.”
Some traders also seem to be in it for the excitement in addition to the pocket change:
“It’s adventurous,” he said. “The tactic is to go beside a parallel trader who is carrying goods more than you. Then he will become the obvious target.”
“Just now, a customs officer asked me to stop, but I just behaved as if I hadn’t noticed his call and strode away. Then, the officers captured the man behind me.”
Despite the semi-illegality of their trade, I have to say I kind of admire their chutzpah. Also, I can’t get too worked up over people smuggling basic food and consumer goods across the “one-country, two systems” border.
And so for them, this Mid-Autumn Festival, I provide the above commemorative border-smuggling comic with my own ideas on how to enhance their stealth.
(Sources: SCMP, 29/9/2012, “Slight respite from parallel traders may not last,” by He Huifeng (the quotes are from this article) and SCMP, 29/9/2012, “36 Held in Parallel Trade Swoops.” by Simpson Cheung. Unless you’re a subscriber you won’t be able to see around the pay wall.)