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

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra 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.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid