The Chief Executive, Mr Donald Tsang, today (September 21) visited the Customs and Excise Department. He was briefed by the Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Mr Timothy Tong, on the department's plans to organise "The Pan-PRD Customs Trade Facilitation Forum and Regional Customs Commissioners Joint Conference" in the second quarter of 2007.
The Chief Executive expressed his support for holding the event in Hong Kong.
Customs chiefs from the nine provinces in the Pan Pearl River Delta and Macau will be invited to attend the event, and to exchange views on Customs clearance. Arrangements will be made for them to meet with local business people to explore trade and investment opportunities.
It is hoped that substantial progress will be made on a number of initiatives, including the airport cargo point-to-point express lane and a simplified clearance procedure for Hong Kong cargo entering the Mainland.
Commending the department for its pragmatic work approach, the Chief Executive said, "Promoting trade facilitation and fostering closer cooperation on Customs clearance between Hong Kong and the Pan Pearl River Delta can help strengthen Hong Kong's position as a premier international transport hub, further promoting trade development."
The Chief Executive also learnt that Hong Kong and Mainland Customs have put in place in recent years various measures for trade facilitation and Customs clearance, such as a unified road cargo manifest and mutual recognition of Customs seals. Projects under deliberation are Shenzhen Bay Port co-location and electronic cargo clearance.
A Shenzhen Bay Port clearance expert group has been set up by the two Customs authorities to explore the co-operative mode of co-location and related facilitation measures, and to co-ordinate implementation details. Both sides have agreed on the laying of an additional cable at Shenzhen Bay Port for the transmission of X-ray cargo images and cargo examination results.
On electronic data interchange for Customs clearance, Mainland Customs has launched a portal website "China Port" and an automatic clearance system for road vehicles.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong Customs is involved in the implementation of the "Electronic Advance Road Cargo Information Project". Hong Kong and Mainland Customs are exploring the feasibility of electronic cargo data sharing and the speeding up of cross-boundary cargo flow through the expert group.
The Chief Executive said, "It is important for Hong Kong Customs to keep pace with the international trend of using electronic data interchange for Customs clearance on all fronts. Parties concerned should speed up the development of an electronic platform for the purpose. Hong Kong Customs' close co-operation with the Mainland and customs administrations overseas would help achieve seamless customs clearance and facilitate trade."
Commissioner Tong also briefed the Chief Executive about the achievements of Customs enforcement in combating drug trafficking and illicit fuel activities.
Apart from strengthening local investigative and intelligence-collection capabilities, Hong Kong Customs has been actively participating in global initiatives for stamping out drug trafficking and maintaining close co-operation with Mainland anti-drug authorities.
With persistent Customs raids, the illicit fuel market has been kept under control. Large-scale illicit oil detreating plants have almost been eliminated from the market. Coupled with enforcement action, Hong Kong Customs has established a notification mechanism with Mainland authorities on smuggled marked oil to tackle the problem.
Accompanied by Customs' senior officials, the Chief Executive boarded a Customs launch to see Customs officers at work. He learnt how the department worked with the Government Flying Service and Marine Police in suppressing sea smuggling activities.
The Chief Executive also toured a mock-up display of piracy scenes, getting a glimpse of the real-life sales of pirated disks and counterfeit goods. He was also briefed on Customs work in the protection of intellectual property rights.
Hong Kong Customs and Hong Kong Brands Protection Alliance have recently launched the "Fast Action Scheme" to detect trademark infringement activities at product exhibitions and trade fairs. Customs will work closely with Alliance members to guard against infringement activities at the upcoming exhibitions next month. In addition, the department is cooperating with the Travel Industry Council in holding talks and seminars for local tour guides to heighten industry practitioners' alertness to counterfeiting activities.
The Chief Executive agreed that the Customs approach of forming partnerships with the community and the intellectual property rights holders was an effective long-term strategy to tackle piracy activities.
On human resources, as Shenzhen Bay Control Point, Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau Spur Line and Tuen Mun Pier will come into service within a year, Hong Kong Customs has been given approval to create 659 new posts, including 267 promotion posts. The Chief Executive recognised that staff morale would improve with better promotion prospects, though the department would have to devote more resources to training new recruits within a short period of time.
The implementation of the five-day week in Customs has been smooth. Customs maintains quality public service with efficiency. No complaints have been received.
During the visit, the Chief Executive met with Customs frontline officers to learn about the challenges they faced in their work, and had a light-hearted chat with them.
The Chief Executive was impressed by the professional work of Customs officers in Customs clearance, law enforcement and trade facilitation. He said their work exemplified the good quality of the disciplinary forces.
Ends/Thursday, September 21, 2006