Gov't eases tolls for food trucks

Updated: 2008-01-26 17:32

The State Council, China's highest governing body, has issued a wide-reaching decree to speed up and ease food shipments to markets as winter storms lashing much of China hamper efforts to curb rising inflation.

The decree, issued late Friday and published in national press Saturday, calls on road police, railway bureaus and gas pump stations to do all they can to ensure timely delivery of food supplies after crushing snow and ice storms clogged roads, cut electricity and snailed deliveries.

Under the government measure, food trucks will be exempt from paying road tolls.

"The transportation of fresh farm products - including vegetables, fruits, livestock and poultry - faces an extraordinarily grave situation as another round of widespread continuous rain and snow will hit the country," said the notice issued by the executive office of the State Council located in Beijing.

Potential shortages in food and energy would add to inflationary pressures coursing through the economy, the world's fourth largest, and come just as Chinese consumers prepare for their biggest shopping binge of the year - the Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, which falls on February 6.

The latest measures are intended to "guarantee market supplies for the Spring Festival and sustain basic price stability," the State Council said.

Complicating the government efforts has been the heaviest snowfall to hit central and southern China in more than 10 years, and more bad weather has been forecast for upcoming days.

On Saturday, ice, rain and snow closed highways, delayed trains and forced flight cancellations. The grave weather even downed power lines in Hunan Province, bringing 136 trains to a standstill.

Double-digit increases in food prices for much of the past year have driven China's overall inflation rate to among its highest levels in a decade. In December, consumer prices were 6.5 percent higher than a year earlier.

In recent days the government has intensified efforts to assert order, setting price controls on many goods and energy supplies and trying to inspire farmers to produce more grain, vegetables, fruits and meats.

The newest government order called on police and roadway departments to give food trucks preferential treatment, waive all tolls and halt the spot inspections that often produce long lines on highways.

Gas stations are prohibited from raising prices and must allow food trucks to fill up their tanks, the directive said, squashing the sales limits some stations have used to make up for recent shortages in petrol supplies.

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