China's No. 1 document renews focus on agricultural sector amid economic pressure at home and abroad

By Shen Weiduo Source:Global Times Published: 2019/2/20 21:53:40

Sector can cushion nation from domestic, external pressure: analysts

Farmers harvest soybeans in Suihua, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province in September 2018. Photo: VCG

Arguing that a sound agricultural sector could offer support for the national economy facing heavy pressure, China's top policymakers have renewed their emphasis on boosting the country's agricultural sector and rural development in a newly released top-level document, vowing to step up measures and policy support.

While it has become customary for the "No.1 central document" - the first policy document of the year - to focus on agriculture, this year's release, coming as China faces deteriorating external conditions, adds urgency to the development of the domestic agricultural sector, officials and analysts said on Wednesday.

"Under stronger downward economic pressure, and faced with a changing external environment and growing risks and challenges, China must hold firm to the strategic status of agriculture and enable it to play well the stabilizer's role for growth," Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs Han Changfu told a press conference on Wednesday.

Han noted that "agricultural and rural development registered steady progress, delivering strong support to sustainable and sound socioeconomic growth in 2018." 

The document, the first policy statement from central authorities this year, was released by the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council, China's cabinet, on Tuesday.

The document emphasizes the significance of stabilizing the planting areas for grain as well as output, in a bid to ensure a stable and sufficient supply of major agricultural products. The agricultural structure will be optimized to increase production of "green" farm products or those in short supply. 

The country also aims for breakthroughs in key agricultural technologies and promotion of independent innovation in certain areas, heavy agricultural machinery, smart agriculture and green agricultural inputs.

Experts said that the document, which sets the tone and direction for the country's agriculture development from 2019 to 2020, is very practical, and it shows the central government's resolve to improve agricultural development and ensure grain security amid domestic and external uncertainties.

Several industries will receive a boost, including dairy, oilseeds, sugar and cotton, but the use of fertilizers and pesticides will be further cut, Wang Dan, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said in an email sent to the Global Times on Wednesday.

"Tourism-related infrastructure in western provinces [and regions] will receive major fiscal support, especially in Tibet, Xinjiang, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan, such as high-speed rail lines connecting Jiuzhaigou Valley (Sichuan), Lijiang and Shangri-La (both in Yunnan)," Wang predicted.

Currently the world's largest soybean importer, China also vowed to expand domestic soybean production through expanding planting areas and improve a subsidy mechanism.

But in a pointed remark, Han noted that though China aims to expand soybean output, domestic soybean supplies will still rely on imports given the huge demand, and the US will be an important partner in soybean trade, along with other import sources. 

China can only produce 16 million tons of soybeans on its own every year, while demand is 110 million tons and 90 percent of the demand relies on import, according to statistics released at the conference.

More open

Jiao Shanwei, editor-in-chief of grain portal based in Central China's Henan Province, told the Global Times on Wednesday that apart from domestic efforts, China has also tried to keep up with international standards and welcome foreign investors' participation in the sector.

According to the document, the country will formulate and improve agriculture support policies following principles that comply with WTO rules, protect farmers' interests and support agricultural development.

A draft catalog for foreign investors released on February 1 said that China encourages foreign investment in various sectors including modern agriculture.

"China has been opening wider to foreign investors in the agriculture sector in the past two years," Jiao said. "Foreign companies' participation will help modernize China's agriculture sector, benefit the sustainable development of the land, and improve the quality of agricultural output." 

Despite achieving steady progress, China still lags behind developed agricultural countries like the US, according to Jiao.
Newspaper headline: Top document renews focus on farming

Posted in: ECONOMY

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