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Finance minister puts priority on farmers
Updated: 2004-03-06 11:53

The government will give top priority to agriculture, rural areas and farmers in terms of expenditures in the central budget, Finance Minister Jin Renqing said Saturday.

Jin Renqing, China's finance minister, makes a budget report to the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, March 6, 2004. [Xinhua]

Jin said that 10 billion yuan from the state's grain-risk fund will be granted to grain producers in 13 major grain producing provinces this year as subsidies, and more budgetary funds will be earmarked to develop agricultural infrastructure, training farmers, providing relief for agricultural disasters.

Total expenditures will increase by 30 billion yuan, or 20 percent, to address the problems facing agriculture, rural areas and farmers.

Except for tobacco, state tax levied on some "special" agricultural products will be rescinded in 2004 and the overall agricultural tax rate will be reduced by over 1 percentage point, reducing the burden on farmers by 11.8 billion yuan this year, the minister said. Premier Wen Jiabao has pledged that agricultural taxes will be scrapped in five years, winning the applause of 3,000 deputies.

In his annual budget layout, Jin also told the parliament that special stimulus bonds once spent on public works projects like roads and other infrastructure would be shifted to boost health care, education and other services in the countryside.

According to his speech Jin predicts total government expenditure of 2.6768 trillion yuan (US$323.3 billion) and revenues of 2.357 trillion yuan, making a shortfall of 319.8 billion yuan.

To help fund this year's budget shortfall and help repay old debt, Jin outlines plans to issue 702.2 billion yuan in treasury bonds this year.

"Currently there is a certain uncertainty in global economic development, and the foundation for the sustained development of China's economy is not too stable," Jin said.

The new budget means the deficit is less than three percent of last year's gross domestic product, within the range seen as safe by economists.

Also, the government will allocate 77.9 billion yuan from the central budget to guarantee that living allowances for workers laid off from state-owned enterprises and basic old-age pensions for retirees from these enterprises are paid on time and in full. And, 17 billion yuan will be allocated in subsidies for enterprises that close down or go bankrupt in order to promote economic restructuring.

Defense spending rises 11.6%

Jin proposed an 11.6 percent increase in the defence budget. The military budget would rise 21.83 billion yuan in 2004.

China's budgetary military spending for 2003 was 185.3 billion yuan (about 22.3 billion dollars). The actual defense spending of the year was not available.

The increase is aimed to improve the defensive combat readiness of the armed forces under hi-tech conditions and to raise the salaries of army personnel and the pensions for ex-servicemen, the minister said.

Defense analysts in Beijing say that this year's double-digit increase of defense expenditures, along with an on-going disarmament endeavor aimed at trimming the 2.5-million-man People's Liberation Army (PLA) by 200,000 by the year 2005, is in line with the country's army building principle of keeping "fewer but better" troops.

In his government work report to the national legislature Friday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pledged to "energetically carry forward military reforms" and work hard to "modernize national defense and armed forces to a higher stage of development."

China will focus on developing new and high technology weaponry and equipment, foster a new type of highly competent military personnel, and promote modernization of the armed forces with IT application as the main content and mechanization as the basis, the premier said.

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