China to open soil pollution treatment sector to private investment

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China will step up soil pollution prevention and treatment, and gradually open the sector estimated to be worth more than 5.7 trillion yuan ($918.7 billion) to private capital, according to Economic Information, a newspaper run by the Xinhua News Agency, on Friday.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection has filed an action plan for soil protection and pollution treatment to the State Council for approval, aiming to stop China's soil deterioration by 2020, an insider told the newspaper. The plan is likely to be released within the year or early next year, the source says.

The country is considering a series of preferential policies, related to finance, taxes and loans, to encourage and regulate cooperation between the government and private capital regarding soil pollution prevention and treatment, and will gradually open the sector to private investment fully, the source told the paper.

Analysts expect the action plan to attract investment in excess of 5.7 trillion yuan, the paper said.

Nearly one-fifth of China's farmland is polluted, with some areas suffering severe pollution, according to a national census on soil pollution conducted from April 2005 to December 2013, the paper reported.

China's farmland accounts for less than 10 percent of the world's total, but the country consumes nearly 40 percent of the world's fertilizers. Meanwhile, its per unit usage of pesticides is 2.5 times the world's average level, according to the newspaper.

In recent years, incidents of grains tainted by heavy metals have frequently made headlines. In 2013, the Central Committee of the Jiu San Society disclosed that more than 16 percent of China's farmland was contaminated by heavy metals, and that the situation was even worse in big cities and in locations near industrial and mining areas, the paper reported.

However, compared with air and water pollution, soil pollution treatment is more arduous and expensive, experts say.

Zhuang Guotai, an official with the Ministry of Environmental Protection, has said that China has hardly begun soil pollution treatment, and at least trillions of yuan is needed to tackle the problem.

Gu Qingbao, a professor with the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, is calling on China to press ahead with legislation on soil pollution treatment, the paper reported.

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