China considers street vendor return to boost economy: observers

By Wan Lin Published: 2020/5/29 1:11:32

A woman makes and sells pancakes at an outdoor booth in North China's Tianjin Municipality. Photo: VCG

China's government may allow street vendors to return and remove road market restrictions in an effort to reboot the economy and meet daily demand as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. 

China's Central Civilization Committee office announced on Wednesday to not include street vendors who occupy outdoor spaces or at other public areas into city assessments for 2020, indicating a temporary relaxation on the already-tight management of the country's street food sector. 

Previously, street vending was a vital indicator in city assessment. During evaluations, cities with strict street vending regulations would receive higher scores. 

The announcement came as economic reboot efforts are underway amid a post-COVID-19 economy, while also boosting employment and ensuring people's livelihoods, according to the government work report delivered during the annual two sessions of the Chinese People Political Consultative Conference National Committee and the National People's Congress. 

Affected by the pandemic, small and medium-sized businesses faced dire situations since January. Softening the restrictions on the road markets helps improve the situation, experts noted. 

"Street vending has always been a low-threshold way for the disadvantaged and people with low and middle income to make a living. Opening-up street markets would not only increase employment but also stimulate consumption among grassroots communities whose livelihoods have been greatly influenced during the outbreak," said Dong Dengxin, professor of Institute of Finance, Wuhan University Of Science And Technology. 

Beijing-based street vendor Shao Xiaodong usually sets up a stand close to a subway station and was happy upon hearing the news, saying the removal of the restrictions would help business to a "great degree."

"Without tight management from city administrators, I can stay on the street longer, have more customers, and earn more money," Shao told the Global Times on Thursday. 

Shao said he was only permitted to operate for limited periods with his vending cart while playing "hide-and-seek" with city administrators. 

Zhang Qiao, who owns a barbecue restaurant in Beijing, has been making ends meet amid the pandemic by setting up tables in open spaces outside of her restaurant to accommodate customers.  

There have been fewer customers in the past three months because only half of the seats can be occupied due to social distancing regulations, Zhang explained.  

"I think people would be willing to sit and eat in a ventilated space, especially during summer," she said.

Although the relaxation of street food regulations is good news for vendors and business owners, issues on how to keep city streets clean and avoid road blockage are common concerns. 

"I understand the intention of the decision, but I am still worried that there might be leftover waste on the street after the ban is removed," said Zhang Yu, a Shanghai resident who lives in a community that was once home to many sidewalk food vendors.

Amid work resumption, cities such as Chengdu, in Southwest China's Sichuan Province, and Hangzhou, in East China's Zhejiang Province, have set up temporary locations or have designated sidewalks for vendors as part of the ongoing efforts to boost the street market economy.

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