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Chinese Farmers Yet To Feel Major Impact From WTO Entry

(Monday, March 10, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- DOW JONES NEWSWIRES: BEIJING (AP)--More than a year after China joined the World Trade Organization, the impact on its farmers has been less than expected in ways both good and bad, a top government agricultural specialist said Monday.

Inefficient Chinese grain farmers were expected to be hit badly by imports of cheap foreign crops. Yet a small increase in China's corn and wheat harvests - and higher grain prices on international markets - meant imports were far less than expected, said Chen Xiwen, who works for the Cabinet's Development Research Center.

"Imported grain found it very hard to win in the Chinese market," Chen said at a news conference on the sidelines of the annual legislative session.

Meanwhile, labor-intensive agriculture such as ornamental flowers and some fishing industries, where China's low labor costs were expected to give it an advantage, haven't benefited as expected, Chen said.

He blamed non-tariff barriers erected by importing nations, including tougher hygiene and purity standards for products such as shellfish. China will work with farmers to ensure their products meet standards imposed by importing nations, he said.

"We hope that when importing nations raise their standards, they do so with the safety of consumers in mind, not to block imports," Chen said.

WTO entry was expected to be both boon and bane for Chinese farmers, whose farms are in general smaller and are far less mechanized than their competitors in other countries.

With rural incomes stagnant and tens of millions of surplus rural labor, a severe impact could have threatened stability in the vast hinterland, which the government has targeted as its prime concern in coming years.

About 800 million of China's 1.3 billion people are still categorized as farmers. But with millions of farmers migrating to the cities, it isn't certain how many still derive their main incomes from agriculture.

Chen said the WTO impact had also been lightened by policies such as tax rebates for exporting corn and eliminating fees for distributing grain to other parts of China. Chinese farmers exported 800 million tons of corn last year, an amount far exceeding imports to China, he said.

-Edited by Genevieve I. Soledad