China vows more fiscal support as virus roils slowing economy

  • Economy
  • Sunday, 16 Feb 2020

Shoppers wearing protective face masks as they line up to go through a checkout at a supermarket in Beijing on Sunday (Feb 16). The number of new cases from China's COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic dropped for a third consecutive day on Sunday. - AFP

BEIJING: China pledged to roll out more effective stimulus despite a widening fiscal gap as the Covid-19 novel coronavirus hits an already slowing economy, highlighting the challenges the epidemic is imposing as the death toll stacks up and thousands of new cases are reported each day.

The nation will further perfect and implement measures this year to reduce corporate taxes and cut unnecessary government expenses as the virus takes a toll on production, Finance Minister Liu Kun wrote on Sunday in Qiushi, the Communist Party of China’s flagship magazine.

The outbreak of the virus and widening dislocation has dealt a shock to Asia’s largest economy that will burden the budget in Beijing, as well as in other economies across the region.

On the same day Liu’s remarks were issued, Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan warned the territory may incur a record deficit next fiscal year. Later this week, Singapore will present its annual budget, with analysts predicting the biggest deficit in almost two decades.

China’s government faced slowing revenue growth even before efforts to contain the virus led to the shutdown of most business. The majority of local governments expect income to grow at a slower pace this year than the provincial average in 2019, according to local budgets compiled by Bloomberg.

With production yet to regain its full pace in all but a few pockets of the economy, increased stimulus to ensure steady growth may widen the fiscal gap and make policy fine-tuning more complicated. Still, authorities are stressing the need to step up spending and ensure funds to contain the disease, regardless of heightened fiscal pressure, the finance minister wrote.

There would continue to be "targeted and phased” measures in cutting taxes and expenses to help companies, he said. Policies include reducing or exempting value-added taxes for firms providing essential goods or logistics, and more funds for provincial authorities, according to Liu.

"While large-scale rolling back of taxes and fees may increase short-term challenges, the nation must take a longer-term view and make resolute steps to implement tax and fee cuts, ” wrote Liu. - Bloomberg

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