OUR MAN WITH his pocket calculator in one hand and value-added-tax (VAT) rebate tables in the other draws our attention to a curious fact. Beijing is using this particular export-stimulus technique to promote the overseas sale of wild and exotic animals.
A month back, the finance ministry announced increased export VAT rebates for almost 1,500 products, effective from March 20. Two-thirds of the products qualify for a 13% rebate, the rest a 9% rebate, effectively cutting export VAT to zero or thereabouts for those goods.
Export VAT rebates are a standard, targeted tool to give a short-term boost to specific exports. Steel and other building materials seem to be the main focus this time around. China is going to have a lot of construction materials it cannot use at home until the recovery from the Covid-19 slowdown is well underway. A push to sell it overseas is an obvious policy response.
A careful reading of the rebate list reveals some other priorities. One appears to be some of the agricultural products of which China committed to buy more from the United States under the US-China Phase One trade agreement, such as live breeding animals, meat and dairy. It looks as if Beijing might be encouraging exports of those to make room for additional US imports.
But tucked alongside Livestock (Breeding), Meat (Fresh, Cold, Frozen, Byproducts), Dairy, and Cotton, Flowers, Vegetables, Fruits, Oils, Nuts, Spices is Wild Exotic Animals (Live, Frozen, Horns, Claws, Fur, Feathers).
For those that do not have their trade categorisation indexes to hand, that last category includes monkeys, edible snakes and reptiles, turtles, raptors, ostrich, pigeon, beaver, civet and rhino horn.
The SARS-CoV-2 outbreak is held to have originated in the giant South China Seafood market in Wuhan, leading to February’s ban on wet markets across China. Promoting the export sales of such exotic animals seems bizarre, or, if it is an attempt to keep the trade going until the wet-market ban can be lifted or ignored, something altogether more mendacious.