Review of Customs' work in 2015 (with photo)

     The Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Mr Roy Tang, said today (February 4) at the Customs and Excise Department 2015 year-end review that the department 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.

     There were 18 611 cases related to laws enforced by Customs in 2015, a decrease of 9 per cent compared to 2014.

     The number of smuggling cases dropped by 13 per cent to 222 last year, of which 70 per cent involved smuggling activities between the Mainland and Hong Kong. Items smuggled were mainly computers and electronic goods.

     Last year there were about 4 300 cases in contravention of the export control on powdered formula, involving about 31 000 kilograms (kg) of powdered formula, a decrease of 11 per cent and 43 per cent respectively compared to 2014. On endangered species of animals and plants, various items with a total weight of 1.08 million kg were seized during the year. Excluding the 1 million kg of Malagasy rosewood of a smuggling case detected in October 2015, the quantity seized was similar to that in 2014.

     The department will continue to work with other departments and take appropriate measures to maintain order at boundary control points to ensure that passenger flow is not hindered by parallel trade activities.

     Last year, 758 drug cases were detected. A total of 1 213 kg of drugs were seized, an increase of about 20 per cent. About 70 per cent of drugs were seized at the airport. About 24 per cent were ketamine (K powder), 23 per cent were methylamphetamine (ice), 19 per cent were cocaine and 11 per cent were synthetic cathinone (bath salts). The seized amount of ketamine and cocaine each showed a 1.2-fold increase, while ice and bath salts decreased by 33 per cent and 43 per cent respectively.

     In addition to fostering closer liaison with Mainland and overseas counterparts so as to combat the source of drug supply through intelligence exchange and joint operations, Customs signed Memorandum of Understanding with five major express courier operators during the year to establish a mechanism for intelligence exchange and communications. A total of 86 drug cases were detected under the mechanism.

     There were 10 279 cases related to illicit cigarettes last year, representing a decrease of 11 per cent. The number of illicit cigarettes seized rose by 40 per cent to 72 million sticks, among which 19 million sticks were seized in two smuggling cases in transit through the territory and detected as a result of intelligence exchange with overseas law enforcement agencies. There were 17 significant smuggling cases, i.e. those involving 500 000 sticks, a decrease of 11 per cent. The number of telephone ordering cases detected increased by 40 per cent to 452.

     The department will continue to adopt a holistic enforcement approach covering the entire supply chain to combat illicit cigarette activities. It will also keep close contact with housing estate management offices and telecommunication service providers to combat telephone ordering.

     On intellectual property rights protection, a total of
1 003 infringement cases were detected last year, representing an increase of 18 per cent when compared to 2014. Among these cases, 200 involved Internet crime.

     The department noted that more and more shops made use of social media platforms in the sale of infringing goods. In response to such a trend, a new generation of the SocNet Monitoring System was rolled out during the year. The system automatically screens the enormous amount of data on social media platforms and assists Customs officers in conducting in-depth investigations on high risk cases. Since the implementation of the new system, the number of social media accounts screened increased to about 4 000 per day, compared to about 200 in the past using manual screening.

     On consumer protection, the department last year detected 79 cases related to short weighing, 44 related to toys and children's products and 61 related to general consumer goods. For cases related to unfair trade practices, successful prosecutions amounted to 106; written undertakings were accepted under the civil compliance-based mechanism in four cases and warning letters were issued in two cases.

     To combat unfair trade practices by notorious shops, the department will continue to conduct shop patrols and handle promptly complaints related to the Trade Descriptions Ordinance lodged by visitors who stay in the territory. A pamphlet with case illustrations for the Ordinance was published during the year to enhance understanding of the Ordinance among members of the public.

     The number of enterprises accredited as "Authorized Economic Operators" increased to 29 last year. The Mutual Recognition Arrangements was signed with Thai Customs, the fifth following those with the Mainland, India, Korea and Singapore Customs. The Free Trade Agreement Transhipment Facilitation Scheme was also rolled out during the year to enable more transhipment cargo in Hong Kong to qualify for preferential tariffs.

     In conclusion, Mr Tang said that with the increasing cross boundary flow of passengers and goods, 2016 would also be a year full of challenges. Customs would continue to make every endeavour to bring its work to fruition.

Ends/Thursday, February 4, 2016
Issued at HKT 19:14