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Dateline: asia – smuggling of wines and spirits at Hong Kong-China border

Dateline: asia – smuggling of wines and spirits at Hong Kong-China border – Brief Article

Kevin Sinclair

Police and customs agents on both sides of the Hong Kong-China border are cracking down on smuggling of wines and spirits. Despite potential heavy fines if captured on the Hong Kong side of the border and long prison terms and even capital punishment for major offenders in China, the lucrative trade continues.

Hong Kong’s Anti-smuggling Task Force recently made two seizures within a week. However, they know that these were mere trickles in a vast flood of illegal shipments.

Although Hong Kong and Macau are now integral parts of China, the two former colonies (of Britain and Portugal) have different tariffs and taxes on wine than does China. This makes it profitable for smugglers to take the low risks involved in sneaking consignments by land and sea.

The sea routes are most popular, according to police in Hong Kong. John Cameron, chief inspector of the anti-smuggling unit, says arrests and seizures are slightly up. In one chase, police grabbed an eight-member gang of Mainland smugglers who had 3,960 bottles of genuine Remy Martin brandy in four sampans. No tax had been paid. Police said total value was US$200,000. In Hong Kong, this would have drawn about 60% tax. In China, taxes would be double that.

Three days later, the same police unit arrested another Mainland gang, trying to smuggle 132 cartons of 1,584 bottles of Chinese Wu Liang Ye rice wine. Once again, this was the genuine article, but with no tax paid.

Why smuggle wine from one part of China to another? Because of the taxation system, wine sales from China to Hong Kong are regarded as an export, so are shipped abroad without customs or excise being imposed.

In 1999, customs officers resolved eight smuggling cases, six of them involving goods aimed for China. These totaled 8,115 liters valued at US$600,000. Almost all smugglers are from China, but buy the goods from middlemen in Hong Kong. Under laws in Hong Kong, courts would usually merely impose a fine, which is little deterrent. But in China, evading taxes and smuggling are regarded as economic crimes against the state. Five years ago, two men who headed a smuggling conspiracy taking large amounts of spirits into China were reportedly executed.

Turning around and smuggling them back into China means instant big profits. Statistics released by the Hong Kong government show an increase in cases involving prestige names with Hennessy, Martell and Remy Martin being favored.

Hong Kong police take the matter seriously. They have new high-speed Cougertek vessels patrolling their waters, specifically aimed at curtailing smugglers. But people running a few cases of wine are not at the top of their list; they also deal with gun-runners, narcotics traffickers and illegal immigration rackets.

Hong Kong Gets Quacking

Roy Moorfield, former wine merchant and now father figure of the wine industry in Victoria, Australia, has a unique method of demonstrating the state’s famed range of Pinot noir: he takes visitors on a Duck Crawl.

This unique culinary event is now well-established in his hometown of Melbourne. The gastronomic odyssey has a partial Cantonese heritage, so Moorfield recently introduced the custom to Hong Kong. It is, he says, a great sales device and a prime example of Pacific Rim cultural exchange.

The Duck Crawl was invented a dozen years ago when Moorfield returned home after a trip to Asia promoting the wines of Victoria. He swore that Pinot noir was an excellent companion for Cantonese roast duck. To prove it, he took a half-dozen gourmets to the top of Little Bourke Street in Melbourne’s vibrant Chinatown.

They went into a restaurant and ordered one dish of duck and one bottle of Pinot noir. That was one mouthful and one glass apiece. Then they walked a few yards down the road to the next Chinese restaurant and repeated the process, with a rival Pinot and a different duck restaurant. This continued down the street, packed with dozens of Chinese eateries, until participants could no longer eat or walk. “It is a good mixture of Australian and Chinese culture,” Moorfield asserts primly.

The event has now developed into a Melbourne cult. Moorfield and other wine boosters use it as a stage on which to demonstrate the state’s impressive range of red wines.

He has now exported the notion to Asia where he takes local wine distributors to restaurants such as the Tang Court in the 5-star Great Eagle Hotel and shows vividly that Pinot noir goes with classic Cantonese dishes.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Hiaring Company

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group