The Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Mr Roy Tang, said today (January 25) at the Customs and Excise Department 2016 year-end review that the department has made considerable achievements in various aspects including narcotics interdiction, anti-smuggling, revenue protection, protection of intellectual property rights, protection of consumer rights and trade facilitation.
For revenue collection on dutiable commodities, duty collected by the department last year was close to $10.7 billion, representing an increase of 2 per cent over 2015. Sixty per cent of the duty was from tobacco products ($6.4 billion), 36 per cent was from hydrocarbon oil ($3.8 billion) and the rest was from alcoholic products.
In 2016, a total of 16 226 cases related to laws enforced by Customs were detected, a decrease of 13 per cent compared to 2015, whereas the value of seizures recorded an increase of 13 per cent from $1.22 billion in 2015 to $1.37 billion in 2016.
Last year, 779 drug cases were detected with a total of 1 271 kilograms, representing increases of 4 and 6 per cent respectively compared to 2015. About 80 per cent of drug cases were detected at the airport. Major seizures included 252.7kg of cocaine representing an increase of 11 per cent, and 150.8kg of cannabis with an increase of 1.1-fold. During the year, a few new types of dangerous drugs were also seized including gamma-butyrolactone (GBL) and synthetic cathinone (bath salts), ketamine (K powder) and methamphetamine (ice).
In addition to fostering closer co-operation with Mainland and overseas enforcement agencies to combat the source origin of drug supply by intelligence exchange and joint operations, Customs will also continue to work with the five major express courier operators through the intelligence exchange mechanism. A total of 69 drug cases were detected under the mechanism during the year.
The number of smuggling cases dropped by 22 per cent to 173 last year, of which nearly 90 per cent involved smuggling activities between the Mainland and Hong Kong, while the number of arrested persons increased slightly by 3 per cent to 192. The three major categories of seizure were food items, computers and electronic goods. The seizure value of food items recorded a 1.8-fold increase to $18 million, whereas computers dropped by 48 per cent to $27 million and electronic goods decreased by 19 per cent to $80 million.
Since the implementation of export control on powdered formula in March 2013, the number of illegal export cases has dropped significantly, from an average of about 430 cases per month in 2013 to around 320 in 2016, proving the effectiveness of the measure. On smuggling of endangered species of animals and plants, a total of 309 cases were detected in 2016, with a total weight of 150 000kg of items seized, representing decreases of 22 per cent and 86 per cent compared to 2015.
The department will continue to strengthen intelligence exchange and co-operation with Mainland and overseas law enforcement agents to combat smuggling at source. To combat smuggling syndicates more effectively, the department will proactively conduct investigation under the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance and restrain and confiscate criminal proceeds.
The department stepped up enforcement action before the Lunar New Year holidays and worked with the Mainland and relevant departments in taking appropriate control measures to maintain proper order and ensure smooth operation at all boundary control points. Relevant measures will also be enforced during upcoming festivals and holidays to ensure that passenger flow is not hindered by parallel trade activities.
Compared with last year, the number of illicit cigarettes cases dropped by 19 per cent to 8 326. Illicit cigarettes seized also decreased by 12 per cent to 63.1 million sticks. Significant smuggling cases (cases involving 500 000 or more sticks) into the territory detected amounted to 17, which is the same as last year, but the number of illicit cigarettes seized rose by 40 per cent to 46.4 million sticks.
Tackling at source has proved to be an effective way to cut off the illicit cigarette supply chain. The department will continue to adopt a holistic enforcement approach covering the entire supply chain in combatting illicit cigarette activities. It will also enhance partnership with housing estate management offices and telecommunication service providers to combat telephone ordering.
On intellectual property rights protection, a total of 845 infringement cases were detected last year, representing a decrease of 16 per cent when compared to 2015. Among these cases, 201 involved Internet crime. The value of the infringement goods seized rose by 49 per cent to $160 million. The highest increase in counterfeit goods was 7.6-fold in watches and watch parts, as well as a 1.7-fold increase in leather goods.
It is worth noting that among the 234 persons arrested for Internet crime cases, about 30 per cent were young people aged 13 to 18, representing an increase of 11 per cent as compared with 2015. The number of seized items also rose significantly by 90 per cent to around 9 000.
Regarding the situation of young people being involved in Internet infringement, the department will step up its publicity focusing on teenagers. Messages stressing that selling counterfeit goods is a serious offence for which conviction would lead to criminal records and affect future prospects will be disseminated through school talks, the Youth Ambassadors Scheme and advertisements on online platforms. Furthermore, the department will also develop a new Big Data System to analyse different types of information on the Internet with a view to screening and detecting the purchase or sale of infringing goods more effectively. The new system is expected to come into operation in the fourth quarter of this year.
On consumer protection, the department last year detected 71 cases related to short weighing, 37 related to toys and children's products and 35 related to general consumer goods. For cases related to unfair trade practices last year, 144 enforcement cases were effected, 64 successful prosecutions were recorded and warning letters were issued in eight cases.
On fitness and beauty industries drawing public concern, in addition to stepping up enforcement action the department held seminars and meetings for the relevant industries during the year to disseminate messages on fair trading.
To combat unfair trade practices for consumer protection, Customs officers patrolled at popular spots of tourist shopping areas with the approach of the Lunar New Year. Pamphlets were distributed to tourists to promote smart shopping as well as to remind traders and tourism industry personnel to comply with the law. The same measure will also be implemented during upcoming holidays as a regular practice. In addition, Customs will proactively follow up on complaints. To combat violations of the ordinance by traders, a Quick Action Team will be deployed to handle and follow up promptly on complaints related to the Trade Descriptions Ordinance lodged by visitors who stay only a short while in the territory.
Regarding cases of omission with intent or hiding units in calculating prices by ginseng and dried seafood shops, i.e. cases concerning catty, tael and mace, related traders have taken warnings after stringent enforcement action by Customs. Some defendants in cases prosecuted during the year were sentenced by court to imprisonment, varying from 14 days to six months. Customs welcomed the court judgments and the sentences had a deterrent effect to traders in violation of the ordinance.
The number of enterprises accredited as Authorized Economic Operators increased to 36 last year. The Mutual Recognition Arrangements were signed with Malaysia and Japan Customs last year, adding up to a total of seven following those with the Mainland, India, Korea, Singapore and Thailand Customs. In addition, the Free Trade Agreement Transhipment Facilitation Scheme which rolled out at the end of 2015 was well received with 4 000 applications with goods valued at nearly US$400 million and estimated tariff reduction exceeding US$23 million by the end of 2016.
In addition, the Intermodal Transshipment Facilitation Scheme of Hong Kong Customs was interconnected with the Speedy Customs Clearance of the Customs administrations of Guangdong Province by the Single E-lock Scheme formally launched by Customs of both places on March 28, 2016. Electronic technology was used to speed up the customs clearance process of transshipment cargo between the two places to facilitate trade. Hong Kong Customs will also actively explore with Mainland Customs the possibility of extending the measure to areas outside Guangdong Province to facilitate the growth of the logistics industry.
To provide the public with a better understanding of the work of the department, the department launched "YouTube Channel - Customs and Excise Department" in September last year. Uploaded videos are grouped into four categories of "Latest Update", "Introduction to Customs Work", "Public Services" and "Departmental Activities". Members of the public can view the services and activities of the department anytime and anywhere conveniently.
In conclusion, Mr Tang said that with the number of major infrastructural projects which are due for completion this year and in the years ahead, cross-boundary flows of passengers and goods are expected to increase. The work of Hong Kong Customs would be full of challenges. Nevertheless, Customs would continue to make every endeavour to bring its work to fruition.
Ends/Wednesday, January 25, 2017