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Legislators Criticize High Taxes on Farmers

Xu Yanlian, a legislator from east China's Jiangxi Province, said this weekend in Beijing that about one-seventh of her annual income is spent on various taxes that she and other rural residents are charged. On behalf of herself and other rural residents, Xu deplored excessive taxation of farmers and applauded Premier Zhu Rongji’s call for reducing financial burdens on farmers.

Xu Yanlian, a legislator from East China's Jiangxi Province, said at the weekend that about one-seventh of her annual income is spent on various fees that she and other rural residents are charged.

The fees go under a variety of names, ranging from "education support," "bridge building and maintenance," "farming" and even funds for "the safety of local community."

Xu said: "I know that paying tax is an obligation as a citizen, but the point is that I am bombarded with different kinds of fees under diverse names. And many of them are charged for no reason."

Beijing has shown a sympathetic ear. A pilot project has been set up in East China agricultural stronghold that is Anhui Province, where farmers may pay a flat agriculture-related tax instead of a mixture of tax and administrative charges.

If the project works well, the central government may introduce it into the whole of rural China.

Xu added: "I am quite cheered up by the fact that Premier Zhu Rongji stressed that the financial burdens on farmers should be reduced.

"If they have to pay so many bills, how can they feel free to consume such items as home appliances and clothes?"

But Su Zaixing, a legislator from Xinhe village in Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, said he was concerned that more and more farmers are giving up farming and moving to big cities for work as crop prices drop and the cost of working farmland rises.

The prices of various crops dropped by between 10 per cent and 30 per cent since five years ago as bumper harvests reduced the price, he said.

"Farming is not that profitable nowadays as we have little idea of how to tap technology for high-yield products, so turning to cities is a better option," said Su.

He called on the government to spearhead more research into advanced seeds and to teach farmers how to compete in the global market.

Su's idea was supported by Dong Shuzhen, a legislator from Yongfeng village in Northwest China's Gansu Province, one of the most poverty and drought-stricken regions in China.

Dong's village of 3,562 people plants corn and potatoes for their main source of income. The corn is sold for just 1 yuan (12 US cents) per kilogram in the local market. Dong said city supermarkets charge more than double that price and it is higher still abroad.

But a lack of marketing knowledge and technological knowhow adversely affects their sales to foreign markets.

Dong said her community is feeling the pinch of China's entry into the World Trade Organization, which means imported corn and potato products will eat into the local economy.

"The foreign corn and potatoes are beautifully shaped and well-presented in a package and sold at a lower price, which will push our sales into a tight corner," said Dong.

Xu is considering a motion to bring more engineers to the countryside and broadcast more TV programs giving agricultural advice.

Prior to her meeting in Beijing, Xu's fellow villagers joined her in drafting a motion to set up a marketing organization that would be responsible for finding sales channels outside the local community.

Dong said she was confident there was a way out, despite the hardship.

"We can plant one of our local specialities, which foreign competitors cannot produce," said Dong. "Once we master the technology and a marketing network, we can earn money."

(China Daily March 11, 2002)

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