News / Africa

Asian Government Subsidies Ease Inflation Pain

A vegetable seller, Vijay Kumar, waits for customers in his shop in an upscale INA market, in New Delhi, India (File Photo)
A vegetable seller, Vijay Kumar, waits for customers in his shop in an upscale INA market, in New Delhi, India (File Photo)

Multimedia

Audio
Heda Bayron

Consumer prices are rapidly rising in Asia, and many people are trying to stretch their budgets. As governments are giving out cash and increasing subsidies on fuel and staple goods to soften the blow on consumers.



In Thailand, food vendors say inflation is biting into their daily profit.

One man says he raised the price of noodles by 16 cents or 5 baht because fuel, cooking oil, chicken and pork prices have all gone up.

A banana fritter vendor says he reduced the number of bananas he sells for 32 cents from 20 pieces to 15 pieces.

"What we see is because the economy is doing well, people feel like they should be able to pass along some of those increases but you’ll never be able to pass a 100 percent," noted Frederico Gil Sander, an economist at the World Bank in Thailand.

Bad harvests, political tensions and higher demand have wreaked havoc on many families’ budgets. Many are getting less for their money.

Oil prices

As world oil prices surged in recent months because of tensions in the Middle East, the Thai government capped the price of diesel - the fuel used by truckers to transport goods from the provinces to the cities - to not more than 96 cents per liter. Indonesia decided to delay a planned cut in fuel subsidies. And in the Philippines, the government approved $11.5 million in fuel subsidies to public transport drivers.

In Hong Kong, a city which imports nearly all its food supply, inflation surged to a 30-month high in February. Shortages and higher demand in mainland China, the source of much of Hong Kong’s food, have spilled over here. One eggplant can now cost more than a dollar in supermarkets.

The government promised to use its budget surplus this year to help citizens by offering electricity subsidies, increasing welfare payments and handing out $770 to every resident.

"Well, I think those subsidies help to provide certain relief especially to the grassroots and the lower middle class," said Connie Bolland, the chief economist of Economic Research Analysis in Hong Kong. "But the amount I think is probably too small to make a difference."

Not sustainable

But economic analysts say that while price controls and subsidies help some people, they are not sustainable because they could cost governments a lot of money in the long run, worsening budget deficits. Sander says subsidies should be targeted to benefit everybody.

"If these subsidies were very targeted to people in the bottom, we think that there will be a lot more to benefit than this overall subsidy which basically ends up reaching everyone," said Sander.

Authorities in China, the Philippines, South Korea, India, Thailand and Indonesia have also raised interest rates in the last two months to reduce the amount of money in the financial system - another means of reining in inflation. They say rates could still go up as long as prices keep on climbing.

Credit costs

Higher credit costs could add to many businesses' woes as they would have to pay more on their loans. Some analysts also worry that it could stifle economic growth, leading to unemployment.

In Hong Kong, authorities have little room to tackle inflation. Bolland says Hong Kong’s fixed exchange rate to the dollar makes Hong Kong assets cheaper to mainland Chinese buyers who hold an appreciating yuan. And that drives up the stock and property market. In some pockets of the property market, prices have surpassed their former peaks in 1997.

"Of course with the liquidity in the system in the mainland, even though they are trying to tighten credit and bank lending and all that, there’s a lot of cash that somehow manages to find its way to Hong Kong," said Bolland.

Positive effect


With every country in Asia struggling to contain rising prices, Sander at the World Bank says inflation has propelled energy efficiency and agricultural productivity higher on Asian governments' agenda.

"In the long term basically you tie this to increases in the productivity of agriculture where there are more people demanding more food," said Sander. "You need to have the supply response and have agriculture produce more food and we think that there is a lot of potential for that. And number two, on the fuel situation. If you need less oil, increases in the price of oil will hurt you less."

The United Nations estimates that between 10 and 42 million people in Asia will be pushed into poverty or prevented from getting out of poverty this year because of higher prices.

You May Like

Sunni-Shi’ite Divide Threatens Middle East Stability

Analysts say ancient dispute that traces back to Islamic Revolution is fueling modern day unrest More

Shifting Demographics Lie Beneath Racial Tensions in Ferguson

As Missouri suburb morphed from majority white to majority black, observers say power structure remained static More

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Restriction is toughest since Soviet era, though critics reject move as patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid