SHANGHAI / BEIJING, Nov 2 (Reuters) – The Chinese government has asked families to keep daily necessities in stock in case of an emergency, after COVID-19 outbreaks and unusually heavy rains that caused prices to soar of vegetables raised concerns over supply shortages.
The Commerce Ministry directive has raised concerns on national social media, as it may have been triggered by heightened tensions with Taiwan.
In response, the Economic Daily, a newspaper backed by the Communist Party, told netizens not to have “too much of an overactive imagination” and that the purpose of the directive was to ensure that citizens did not not be caught off guard if there was a lockdown in their area.
The ministry’s statement on Monday evening urged local authorities to do a good job of ensuring stable supply and prices, and to give early warnings of any supply issues.
The central government is usually making extra efforts to increase the supply of fresh vegetables and pork in the run-up to China’s most important holiday, the Lunar New Year, which will fall in early February next year.
But this year, those efforts became more urgent after extreme weather conditions in early October destroyed crops in Shandong – the country’s largest vegetable-growing region – and outbreaks of COVID-19 cases. Stretching from the north-west to the north-east of the country threaten to disrupt food supplies.
Last week, prices for cucumbers, spinach and broccoli had more than doubled since early October. Spinach was more expensive than some cuts of pork at 16.67 yuan ($ 2.60) per kilogram, according to a vegetable price index in Shouguang, a key commercial center in Shandong.
Although prices have eased in recent days, economists expect a significant year-over-year increase in consumer price inflation for October, the first in five months.
The pandemic has placed more emphasis on food security for Beijing. The government is currently drafting a law on food safety and has also introduced new efforts to tackle food waste after making the problem a priority last year.
The Commerce Ministry added that local authorities should purchase vegetables that can be stored well in advance and also seek to strengthen emergency delivery networks to ensure smooth and efficient distribution channels.
He added that price and supply and demand information for commodities should be released in a timely manner to stabilize public expectations.
China also plans to release vegetable reserves “at the appropriate time” to counter rising prices, according to a state television report Monday evening.
It is not clear which vegetables China has in its reserves and how big they are.
The state planning body called for the rapid replanting of vegetables, urging local governments to support fast-growing produce, according to the report.
Currently, China has about 100 million mu (6.7 million hectares) planted with vegetables, the agriculture ministry said.
($ 1 = 6.3999 Chinese yuan)
Reporting by Brenda Goh and Dominique Patton; Editing by Edwina Gibbs
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