Thursday, November 4, 2021

Bail Out the Bankrupt; Keep the Masses Fed and Warm

After hearing a report on an inspection of 16 provinces, China's Premier Li Keqiang ordered officials to help major companies escape financial ruin, plug holes in local government finances, and keep the masses fed and warm. Behind the scenes, officials are worried that Olympic ice skaters will have enough vegetables to eat. 

Premier Li's top priority at the November 2 meeting was to help major market players alleviate "new" financial difficulties and fine-tune an economy facing "new downward pressure." Specific problems he cited include unpaid debts to small and medium enterprises, financial problems for some local governments, and rising costs due to soaring commodity prices. 

The second priority is to address "pain points" for the common people, including unpaid wages for teachers, unpaid medical expenses, reconstruction of aging residential communities, and other "unsolved problems" related to maintaining the basic standard of living. This includes stabilizing food supplies and prices and keeping people warm through the winter. 

Third, Premier Li took aim at waste of government funds, calling for an end to "face" projects. Instead  "valuable public funds" should support market players and maintain peoples' basic living standard. The meeting called upon officials to refrain from formalism and bureaucracy, and to resolutely oppose inaction, reckless action, "mean government" and "lazy government". 

On cue, other Chinese Government organizations have released documents this week calling for vigilance in stabilizing supplies of basic necessities. 

A November 1 notice on ensuring supply of vegetables and other daily necessities over the winter issued by the commerce ministry encouraged families to stock up on basic staples in case of emergency. The notice was interpreted by many Chinese citizens as a signal that the country was about to invade Taiwan, and it become the most-discussed topic on social media. 

A rebuttal posted by China Grain Net berated netizens for "over-interpreting" the commerce ministry's notice as an invasion warning. The article explained that such notices are commonly issued, and this one was prompted by flooding and other weather events, rising vegetable prices, the pandemic, and the possibility of more weather events driven by a prospective La Nina. The advice to stock up on necessities was given in case citizens encounter covid lockdowns, the article explained. 

An October 29 notice on winter vegetable production and marketing issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs explained that vegetable prices had been rising due to extreme weather since September, virus prevention, rising production costs, and power cuts. The Ministry ordered officials to ensure vegetable supplies to cities, especially during the winter holidays and the Beijing winter Olympics. 

Winter and spring agricultural supply was the theme of a November 4 Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs news conference. Market Information Director Tang Ke explained that China had experienced nearly unprecedented flooding this fall, and 2 million mu of vegetable fields are still waterlogged or flooded. Lack of sunshine has slowed growth, especially effecting leafy vegetables like spinach and lettuce. Tang cited rising fertilizer and pesticide prices for raising vegetable production costs, disruption of transportation by rising fuel costs, power cuts that wiped out seedlings in greenhouses, and disruptions from the spread of the virus in some areas. 

The deputy director of the Ministry's crop production office assured the public that increases in grain production in northeastern provinces and elsewhere offset losses to flooding in Henan, Shanxi, and Shaanxi Provinces. The Ministry expects a record grain output this year, and the crop office director claimed that supply is greater than consumption. She acknowledged that rain had slowed the planting of winter wheat, but claimed planting had been expedited after weather improved in mid-October. Now the risk is that the late planting will affect the crop's progress. 

The head of the Ag Ministry's veterinary bureau said pork is also in surplus, with the 30 million head slaughtered at above-scale facilities in October up 110 percent from a year earlier and the 46-million-head sow herd 6 percent above its equilibrium size. His good news is that a bump in hog prices in October restored profitability for hog farmers. He encouraged everyone to eat more pork to improve their nutrition (perhaps he didn't read the State Council's dietary guidelines that encouraged people to eat less pork and more whole grains, leafy vegetables and soybeans).

On November 3, the director of the Administration of Grain and Commodity Reserves assured the public that wheat and rice reserves are adequate. He said grain reserves are at a historic high. Rice and wheat make up 70 percent of government grain reserves, and there is 1.5 years' supply of wheat in reserves. 

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