Concrete actions should be taken to implement the policy of consolidating and strengthening agriculture as foundation of China's national economy, and to improve the farmer's income, according to a report adopted by the presidium of the annual session of China's top legislature in Beijing Friday.
The speech by Fu Zhihuan, chairman of the Financial and Economic Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), was made to the NPC presidium to report his committee's examination outcome on the planning report delivered by Ma Kai, minister of the State Development and Reform Commission at the parliamentary session.
"To resolve the problems pertaining to agriculture, farmers and rural areas should be made the top priority of all work, and concrete actions be taken to implement the policy concerning the increase in farmers' income," according to the report, which, after adoption, will be basis for a final resolution of the NPC session on the planning report.
The report of the NPC Financial and Economic Committee noted that measures and targets laid down in the planning report are "basically feasible." It proposed that the NPC session accept the planning report. The presidium also adopted a report of the committee that proposes accepting the government's expenditure plan.
While positive assessment was made, the NPC's Financial and Economic Committee report acknowledged that there are still a few "contradictions and problems" in economic and social spheres, including a slow growth of farmers' income, a drop in grain output, expropriation of farmland and delayed payment of migrant laborers' wages.
As a proposal, the report says that reform on collecting rural tax and fees should continue and that the commitment on tax and fee reduction should be "well implemented."
Premier Wen Jiabao told the parliament on Friday last week that solving problems facing agriculture, rural areas and farmers was atop priority in all government work this year.
"Once again, China's agriculture is in a crucial period of its development," Wen underscored. "We must take more direct and effective policies and measures to strengthen, support and protect agriculture and increase rural incomes in line with the need to balance urban and rural development."
The premier also announced that all taxes on special agricultural products will be repealed except for tobacco, thus reducing the financial burden on farmers by 4.8 billion yuan annually. Beginning this year, the agricultural tax rate will be reduced by more than one percentage point per year on average, and agricultural taxes will be rescinded in five years.
To echo Premier Wen's announcement, China's top planner and financier both set forth measures in their reports to the top legislature last Saturday to help farmers earn more by reducing levies and increasing investment in the countryside.
"Premier Wen has announced some specific measures to tackle the problems of agriculture, farmers and rural economy, and many members of the NPC are satisfied with his announcement," Wang Mengkui, a renowned economist and vice-chairman of the NPC Financial and Economic Committee, told Xinhua Friday.
"Many NPC members said the premier's ideas, the reduction and exemption of tax and fees in particular, are pragmatic," he said. "I think the first thing is to have the measures implemented."
Figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics show that the per-capita average disposable income of rural residents was only 1,000 yuan (US$121) a year and their per-capita net income rose at an annual rate of only 4 percent in 1997-2003, barely half that of urban residents, with the urban-rural gap enlarging from 2.47:1 to 3.24:1.
A large number of farmers in remote, outlying villages are too poor to pay their medical bills and children had to stay at home doing farm work after finishing primary school.
Most grain growers in China have enough to eat but little money to spend, said some NPC members.
Wang went on to say that the premier's announcements represented only the preliminary steps. In the long run, he added, industrialization and urbanization should be explored to resolve the problems of agriculture, farmers and rural economy.
"Farming on small plots of land can only result in enough food and clothing, but not prosperity," Wang said. "To fundamentally tackle the problems, more advanced and pragmatic technologies should be transferred to the rural areas and more rural laborers should work on the non-farming sectors."
(Xinhua News Agency March 12, 2004)