SCIO briefing on China's fiscal and monetary policies

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Liu Wei, vice minister of the Ministry of Finance;
Wang Jianfan, director-general of Tax Policy Department, Ministry of Finance;
Wang Kebing, vice director-general of Budget Department, Ministry of Finance

Xi Yanchun, vice director-general of the Press Bureau, State Council Information Office

July 28, 2017

 Xi Yanchun:

Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. Welcome to today's press conference. We are delighted to invite Mr. Liu Wei, vice minister of finance, to introduce China's fiscal and monetary policies and answer some of your questions. Also present are Mr. Wang Jianfan, director-general of the Tax Policy Department of the ministry, and Mr. Wang Kebing, vice director-general of the Budget Department of the ministry.

Now, let's welcome Mr. Liu Wei to provide his briefing.

Liu Wei

Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.

In the past six months, the Ministry of Finance has concentrated on supply-side structural reform, and launched a proactive fiscal policy, ensuring China's economic performance would remain stable and would move in a positive direction.

First, Stepped-up efforts to cut taxes and fees.

We continued to ease the corporate tax burden. Measures taken included: implementing and improving the program to replace business tax with VAT in all sectors of society; simplifying the structure of VAT rates; halving corporate income tax for an increasing number of small and micro businesses; providing tax credit policies to more enterprises investing in business start-ups; widening the scope of tax deductions for R&D expenses of high-tech small and medium-sized enterprises.

We also made more efforts to cut fees. Measures taken included: overhauling and exercising standard-based management of administrative fees and government-managed funds; releasing the lists of administrative charges of central and provincial governments on the website of the Ministry of Finance; launching short-term policies to lower premiums for unemployment, reduce logistics and energy consumption costs of enterprises, and reduce business and service fees and charges.

These policies and measures are expected to save enterprises 1 trillion yuan in taxes and fees this year.

Second, Improving management of budget implementation.

Regarding central government's transfer payments to local governments, by the end of June, we had carried out most of the appropriations to local governments, while the remaining funds are for special items, such as payments to those needing settlement by actual spending.

We deepened reforms to introduce a system for the treasury's centralized revenue collection and expenditure payments. Government funds, allocated and transferred in a timely way were also put to better use.

We speeded up the process of making budgetary funds available for fiscal expenditures. In the first half of this year, the growth rate of national fiscal expenditure was six percentage points higher than fiscal revenues. The proportion of budgetary expenditures implemented was 0.7 percentage points higher than the same period last year.

We improved performance-based budget management. Besides the general public budget, some government-managed funds and State capital operations were also placed under closer supervision.

Liu Wei:

Third, improved people's living standards.

Precise measures are being launched to alleviate or eliminate the prevailing impoverished conditions, with special attention being paid to the most affected areas. Funds for the agricultural sector have expanded from the pilot poverty-stricken counties to the entire impoverished area and local government attempts to alleviate poverty by asset incomes are being buttressed.We have unified policies whereby Chinese students receiving compulsory education are exempted from paying tuition and fees and paying for textbooks and a subsidy will be provided for the living expenses of students from families with financial difficulties, so that the exemptions can be deemed valid everywhere.

Funds for the needy group have been better integrated and the local governments are expected to better assist people with minimum incomes or those suffering severe poverty. Meanwhile, more efforts have gone into healthcare and great importance been placed on efforts to protect the air, water and soil from pollution through programs of ecological conservation.

The government has placed more importance on the most impoverished areas where the shortage of resources and energies leads to fiscal difficulties.

Fourth, tightened control of local government debt.

The fundraising programs by local governments have been further regulated. There are clear guidelines for the issuance of local government bonds. We have improved the system for local governments' special debt and a mechanism in response to risks and emergencies has been established. At the same time, a regular institution overseeing local governments' debts has also be established.

In the past few months, the joint efforts of macro-economic policies, such as fiscal policy, have ensured the sound and smooth development of the national economy and the execution of fiscal budgets has also performed well.

During the first half of this year, the National General Public Budget Revenue hit 9.4 trillion yuan, up 9.8 percent year on year--an increase of2.7 percentage points compared to the same period last year and 5.3 percentage points higher compared to the figure of last year's total. By slashing considerable amount of taxes and fees, revenue during the past six months surged above expectations, which demonstrates the sound and positive development of the national economy. The improved economic structure, the resurgence of the service industry, the positive balance sheet of enterprises and the growing imports and exports have laid a good foundation for increased revenue. At the same time, the growth also partly resulted from the rise of the producer price index (PPI) as well as the price hike of bulk commodities.

The structure of the revenue has changed positively. During the first half of this year, tax revenue growth constituting 92.9 percent of the entire increase, 13.3 percentage points higher compared to the figure of last year's total. The value-added taxes, including industrial and commercial VAT, enterprise and personal income taxes and taxes on imports, maintained double-digit growth. The secondary and tertiary sectors,accounting for 47.5 percent and 52.3 percent respectively, have contributed considerably to the growth of tax revenues.

Considering the tax growth of different sectors, the reduction of excessive capacities, supply-demand reform and the surging prices of products led to tax increases in the energy and raw material industries; the constant driving force of the improved industrial structure produced an increase of taxes from medium or high-end manufacturing industries and the shift of growth drivers and emergence of the new market demand brought about the rapid tax growth in cultural, sports, the internet and IT sectors. In regard to regional economies, the growth basically can be seen in balance, with 11.3 percent and 10.7 percent respectively in the middle and western areas and 9.3 percent in the east.

In the first half of this year, the National General Public Budget Expenditure hit 10 trillion, constituting 53.1 percent of the planned budget, and registering growth of 15.8 percent year-on-year. The growth rates of education, science and technology, social security and employment, healthcare and family planning and energy saving and environmental protection were respectively 17.2 percent, 22.7 percent, 24.6 percent, 18.2 percent and 39.8 percent.

The Ministry of Finance, in the following phase, will continue to comply with the strategic policy decisions made by the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, uphold the consistency and coherence of the policies, implement proactive and effective fiscal policies, fend off the risks of local government debts generally guided by the supply-side reform, curb the growth of hidden debts and ensure the sound and stable development of national economy.

I will conclude my report here and move onto the question-and-answer session with my colleagues. Thank you.

Xi Yanchun:

Thank Mr. Liu Wei for his introduction. Now, the floor is open to questions.

Phoenix TV: 

We have noticed that the recent National Conference on Financial Work demanded local government debts be strictly controlled. A lifelong accountability system and a system to retrospectively hold officials accountable for their erroneous acts were to be implemented. At a meeting of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, a warning was issued about local government debts and improvements were sought in a mechanism for local governments to secure financing so as to contain hidden debt-related risks of local governments. From this point of view, what is your opinion, and how will you implement the central government's requirements?

Liu Wei:

The question you have raised is one that all sectors of society have been paying close attention to. At the meeting of the National Conference on Financial Work, President Xi Jinping laid down new and higher requirements. The CPC Central Committee and the State Council have placed emphasis on preventing and reducing risks of local government debts. In recent years, the Ministry of Finance has strengthened top-level planning, promoted institutional set-up and formed a "closed cycle" system for local government debt management and supervision. Let me introduce the work in detail. 

 First, setting ceilings on local government debts. It is known that ceilings on local government debts should be examined and approved by the National People's Congress. And the ceilings on government debts are determined through certain procedure for each province, and it is not allowed to break through.

Second, bringing local government debt under budgetary management. It means that new debts must be included in budget and under the examination and supervision of the National People's Congress. Local governments cannot freely increase their debts at will.

Third, issuing new local government bonds. Local governments can issue bonds within the statutory limit in a legal and regulated way. The amount of bonds to be issued by local governments should be decided in accordance with their ability of debt repayment and their needs of financing.

Liu Wei:

Fourth, issue local government bonds in swaps with government debt. The previously mentioned newly-issued bond in the budget under central government guidance is the increment, which would be controlled in the new increased quota. But what should we do with the stock of local government debts already existing? Those debts were gradually replaced by issuing local government bonds, which will lower the entire cost of debt.

Fifth, improve local government's special debt management abilities. We are promoting special and particular bond management methods, strengthening the management of special debts related to local government's funded income and local assets (e.g. land assets).

Sixth, establish a risk pre-warning and emergency response mechanism. The Ministry of Finance has established approaches for achieving risk pre-warning and emergency response, asking local governments to evaluate the risks based on the total amount of debts and the debt structure. This involves very precise system design.

Seventh, we built a system of regular supervision of local government debt. Besides audit supervision, the Financial Supervision Commissioner's Office of the Ministry of Finance also exercises routine supervision on the debt of local governments according to law, which is also their major task. Somecity or county-level governments under theearly warning, and financing platforms with non-standard operation have also been placed under surveillance. We have taken a series of measures to strengthen daily supervision of local government debt.

Eighth, we will resolutely stop such action as financing guarantee in violation of the relevant law and regulations. Media friends may notice that, in regard to those illegal behaviors, local governments are not only required to take corrective steps, but also are held fully accountable for their actions.

With the gradual implementation of the measures, it can be said we have achieved remarkable success in controlling risks of local government debt, and we are fully capable of defending the bottom line, namely no outbreak of systemic risk. By the end of last year, local governments' outstanding debt stood at 15.32 trillion yuan, within the quota of 17.19 trillion yuan approved by the National People's Congress. If assessing the level of local government by measure of the debt ratio, it was 80.5 percent in 2016, which stayed below the international standard.

Adding in the outstanding central government debt of 12.01 trillion yuan included in budget management, the outstanding government debt nationwide stands at 27.33 trillion yuan. Calculated in accordance with GDP preliminary accounting of 74.41 trillion yuan released by the National Bureau of Statistics, the government debt ratio stood at 36.7 percent. This figure is lower than the European Union's warning line - 60 percent - and it is also lower than the level of major market-economy countries and emerging markets. In regard to government debt risk, we think it is generally controllable, which is our rational and confident answer.

As approved by the fifth session of the 12th National People's Congress this year, the debt limit for local governments in 2017 is 18.82 trillion yuan. At the end of June, with the issue of more bonds, the current debt balance of local governments is 15.86 trillion yuan, still under the limit of 18.82 trillion yuan. China's National Financial Work Conference and the meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of Communist Party of China have made special arrangements and specified requirements on controlling local debt levels and prevent risk, and the Ministry of Finance will carry out the implementation in a clear and resolute way. We will further implement the new concepts of development, and adhere to supply-side structural reform as the main effort, resolve accumulated local debtrisk in an active and prudent way, and regulate the debt financing of all local governments.


As for supply-side structural reform, the Central Economic Working Conference at the end of last year noted that the reform would be deepened this year. My question is, what measures hasthe Ministry of Finance taken to support the reform?

Liu Wei:

It's a good question. Supply-side structural reform involving a wide range of aspects is a key reform that will have profound influence; hence, all sides should coordinate and implement measures in a comprehensive way in order to accomplish reform tasks assigned by the Central Government. The Ministry of Finance and its subordinate departments have been followingthe spirit of the Central Economic Working Conference, deployment set in the Report on Government Work, and the new vision of development, so as to promote supply-side structural reform in the three following aspects:

First, carry out five tasks ofcutting overcapacity, reduce the excess urban real estate inventory,cutting costs,deleveraging and strengthening areas of weakness. We have appropriated specific incentive and subsidy funds of industrial enterprise restructuring in a timely way and supported personnel placement in the process of cutting overcapacity in the steel and coal sectors. We adjusted and completed subsidy policies on corn and soybean and cut policy-type inventories of cereal, cotton and oil. We improved the ratio of monetized compensation for personnel resettlement during shanty town renovation to cut real estate inventory. We implemented and completed policies related to enterprise merger, restructuring, and the assignment and writing-off of debts. We have carried out measures to lower taxes and administrative fees to relieve the burden on enterprises. We have also stepped up poverty alleviation in poor regions, promoted the pilot program of agriculture funds integration in all poverty-stricken counties, and supported local governments to explore ways of poverty alleviation through assets income.

Second, we have been pushing for supply-side structural reform in agriculture. Specifically, we have carried out green-oriented reform of agricultural subsidies, introduced a disaster insurance scheme on a pilot basis for farmers whose operations are suitably scaled-up in 200 major grain-producing counties from 13 major grain-producing provinces or provincial-level regions. Moreover, we will also work with related departments of the State Council to provide some preferential policies and subsidies for producing and processing high-quality grain and oil, as well as for brand promotion, in order to meet upgraded consumer demand.

Third, we have been pushing for the transformation and upgrading of the real economy through innovation. Specifically, we will continue to increase assistance for basic research, deepen the implementation of "Made in China 2025," support smart manufacturing and green manufacturing, strengthen industrial foundations, and carry out trials of the insurance compensation mechanism for newly-developed major technological equipment.

Under support of fiscal policy and other macro policies, supply-side structural reform is gradually producing a telling effect: the relationship between market supply and demand is improving, business performance and expectations have become stronger, and the economic structure continues to be upgraded. Next, under the direction of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, we will continue to focus on supply-side structural reform, gradually implementing the priority tasks of "cutting overcapacity, reducing excess inventory, deleveraging, lowering costs and strengthening areas of weakness," so as to ensure supply-side structural reform in agriculture, rejuvenate the real economy, and promote healthy and continuous economic growth.



The financial deleveraging carried out recently is likely to increase the financing costs of some businesses. In this context, will any fiscal policies be introduced to cushion the impact? In addition, how serious is the problem of hidden debt at local levels?

Liu Wei:

The first question you raised involves both fiscal and monetary policies. As to fiscal policies, we will intensify our efforts to reduce taxes and fees so as to ease the burden on businesses. Besides, budgetary spending will also play its role in this effort.

I think the relationship between deleveraging and financing cost increases you mentioned is not mathematical. As to what policies will be introduced, we will try to reduce the burdens on businesses by slashing taxes and fees. In addition, we will give more support tosmall and micro- businesses in key sectors and policy-backed financing guarantee institutions in the endeavor to promote more business start-ups andinnovation. Meanwhile, we will cooperate with other departments to improve the risk compensatory mechanism so as to lower the costs of financial institutions.

As to the second question, I have talked a lot about government debt, and I would like to invite Mr. Wang to give further information.

Wang Kebing:

Vice Minister Liu has elaborated on the management of local government debt from the perspectives of the measures undertaken by the Ministry of Finance, the achievements it has made and work in planning.I would like to add the following two points:

First, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council require that the increase of local government debt should be strictly controlled. The Ministry of Finance will adhere to the guidelines set by the CPC Central Committee and the State Council. We will stick to the approach of "close the back door, open the front door," improving mechanisms for local governments to secure financing in an appropriate way. In this regard, the following steps should be taken:

Impose appropriateceilings on government debt in accordance with the law. Local governments should coordinate the use of funds allocated to major public projects. More should be spent on strengthening areas of weakness.

Steadily promote the management and reform of special bonds, an important measure to "open the front door."We have issued two documents, namely,Local Government Land Reserve Special Bond Management Approach andLocal Government Toll Road Special Bond Management Approach. Analysis shows funds raised for these two areas account for much oflocal government debt. The measures, based on local realities, deliver Chinese "municipal bonds" to ensure local reasonable financing requirement. The work concerns constructing an important mechanism to ensure local reasonable financing requirement. So, we must do it well.

Accelerate the market-oriented transition of financing platform companies. We will delineate the boundaries of government and enterprise in accordance with the law, separate government's financing function from financing platform companies, and support the latter in their transition tobecoming independent and self-financed State-owned enterprises. Local governments undertake responsibility in regard to the financing range. The enterprises serve local economic development in accordance with laws and regulations. However,governments cannot take the responsibility of paying debt they have incurred.

Take resolute and legal measures to ensure that local governments raise funds in a regulated manner. Local governments can only issue bonds within the ceiling set; beyond that, there's no other way to borrow money.

Step up work in regard to investigating and dealing with illegal bond issuance and hold those responsible to account. The hidden debtmentioned by Reutersis, in fact, the debt raised by local governments in breach of laws and regulations. We must strengthen oversight over this kind of debt.Provincial governments should establish strict accountability mechanisms. The Ministry of Finance and other government departments will form a synergy to exercise joint oversight and supervision.

Second, six ministries and commissionsjointly issued a Notice on Regulating Local Governments Debt Financing in May this year. The Ministry of Finance then issued a Notice on Resolutely Stopping Illegal Financing in the Name of Government. These two notices clarified the time limits for local governments to undertake overhaul of their procedures. As far as we know, local governments are stepping up their actions. They are required to submit reports to us within the time limits set. I think great progress will be made in this aspect. Thanks.

China News Service:

In the opening speech, Mr. Liu said that, this year, enterprises may save 1 trillion yuan in taxes and fees. Does it mean that the policies on cutting taxes and fees have taken full effect? What specific policies have the Ministry of Finance taken in the recent years?

Wang Jianfan:

In recent years, the Ministry of Finance has worked with other departments to launch a series of policies and measures to cut taxes and fees. These measures have been conducive to implementing the innovation-driven development strategy, promoting supply-side structural reform, encouraging widespread entrepreneurship and innovation, reducing costs for enterprises in the real economy, improving the overall business environment, and so on.

Generally speaking, we have worked on two aspects: First, stepping up efforts to cut taxes and fees; second, overhauling and exercising standard-based management of administrative fees and government-managed funds.

Regarding tax cuts, we have implemented trials in replacing business tax with VAT in all sectors. Measures taken include: cutting the number of tax brackets from four to three by cancelling the bracket of 13 percent on July 1; providing tax credit policies to more small- and micro-businesses; widening the scope of tax deductions for enterprise R&D expenses; widening tax credit policies concerning the accelerated depreciation of fixed assets; introducing policies on equity-based incentives for innovation and on deferred payment of individual income tax for R&D personnel who have become shareholders through their technology and innovation; widening the scope of tax deductions for R&D expenses of high-tech small and medium-sized enterprises; providing tax credit policies covering more enterprises investing in business start-ups.

Other measures taken included: exempting the vehicle purchase tax for new-energy cars; reducing the vehicle purchase tax for cars with small engine displacement; introducing policies on personal income tax deduction for buyers of commercial health insurance; introducing policies on deferred payment of individual income tax to encourage development of annuity plans in enterprises and public institutions.

These are just some of the measures we have taken, and I won't take more of your time on giving examples.

In terms of administrative fees, there has been downsizing in fields in which the government provides public services in general or common administration such as administrative licensing, inspection and detection, registration and retrieval, and supervision and management. In terms of government-managed funds, environmental resources and electric power bonds, certain counteracting policies and regulation or those considered unadaptable to reform and development have been removed. With continuous efforts, administrative fees set by the central government have been reduced by over 70 percent from 185 items to 51, among which fees for enterprises have fallen by nearly 70 percent from 106 items to 33, and those for government-managed funds have dropped 30 percent from 30 items to 21. The items of administrative fees by local governments have also dropped dramatically.

Thank you.

Nihon Keizai Shimbun:

China's fiscal deficit reached 917.8 billion yuan in the first six months of this year, an increase of 15.1 billion yuan over the same period of last year. What do you think is the main reason for the substantial increase in the base number? And, what do you expect will be the scale of the deficit in the second half of this year? Thank you.

Wang Kebing:

First, the deficit scale was approved by the National People's Congress at the beginning of the year, and the financial department itself has no options in determining it. Moreover, the deficit is calculated according to annual revenues and expenditures. As there is an imbalance between the monthly and quarterly revenues and expenditures, the deficit scale cannot be measured on a monthly or quarterly basis.

Second, even if calculated on an annual basis, the deficit is not simply the result of subtraction between revenues and expenditures, because, in addition to the general public budget revenue collected every year, the annual available revenues also include the central budget stabilization fund transfers according to law, the government-managed fund and the State-owned capital management budget fund allocated according to law, and any surplus fundsnot used up in the previous annual budget and carried forward to the next year.

In terms of spending, apart from general public budget expenditure, we also have expenditure to replenish the central budget stabilization fund. For example, the Budget Law stipulates that a surplus in the general public budget will be totally used to replenish the central budget stabilization fund. Moreover, the expenditure also includes surplus funds carried forward to the next year. Therefore, the fiscal deficit is the overall income from which overall expenditure is deducted.

China Daily:

Just now you mentioned something about disclosure of government-managed funds and the catalogue of administrative charge items. Can you tell us how you will implement this? And whether the catalogue will have space for future changes or adjustments? Thanks.

Wang Jianfan:

The Ministry of Finance published "a network" of government-managed funds and administrative charge items on its official website on June 29. When we say "a network," we mean it will either include central government-managed funds and administrative charge items, or those in various provinces, cities, and regions. It covers all charge items in various departments of the central government as well as provincial, regional and municipal governments. In fact, before the network was announced, according to the arrangement and deployment of the State Council, the Ministry of Finance and the various finance departments at provincial level had already been publishing lists of the government-managed funds and the administrative charge items from 2014. However, there were no requirements for formatting then, while there were differences in project arrangements. Besides, some places might also have problems with delayed updating and not properly maintaining the catalogues. When the network was published, we received positive feedback from all walks of society. The network is quite significant in reinforcing and expanding the reform achievements in terms of delegating power, streamlining administration and optimizing government services, speeding up the establishment of a modern fiscal system, and working hard to build fiscal transparency.

As the next step, the Ministry of Finance will continue to manage the Network with routinized and dynamic characteristics to clarify the subjects of duty, to strengthen the supervision and accountability mechanism so as to carry out the policies of slashing fees approved by the State Council and further improve economic development environment.

Firstly, we will take the Network as the carrier, in order to improve the mechanism system of charges. Through the Network, we will strengthen guidance and supervision of the central government on local governments' charge items. We are building and seeking to improve the dynamic adjustment mechanism. And the Ministry of Finance will check with the local governments regularly to ensure the timeliness and accuracy of the Network.

Secondly, we will take the Network as the model to push local governments to further review and regulate fees and charges. By exposing the lists of charge items in different provinces (cities, districts), local governments will be able to spot gaps by comparison, and learn from each other to absorb advanced experience and methods, in a bid to improve their management. The Ministry of Finance will analyze the charge items of these districts in the Network, leading local governments to deepen reforms in the process ofreviewing and regulating all fees and charges.

Thirdly, we will step up the effort to clean up arbitrary charges and focus on the "service network." On the basis of the "service network," the Ministry of Finance and other related departments will strengthen supervision and inspection of arbitrary charges and fees which are not on the lists, do our work in accordance with the lists, and establish an operational and supervisory mechanism.

Xi Yanchun:

We will invite more macro-economic departments to attend the SCIO briefings and answer your questions. Please stay tuned for more press conference notices published on the SCIO APP. 

That's all for today's press conference. Thank you.

By Li Xiaohua, Chen Xia, Guo Xiaohong, Wu Jin, Gao Zhan, Zhang Rui, Liu Qiang, Cui Can, Li Jingrong, Zhang Jiaqi, Mi Xingang, Guo Yiming, Zhang Liying, Huang Shan, Xu Lin, Wang Qian, He Shan, Li Huiru

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