China offers tax breaks for wild animal exports despite domestic ban

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China is offering tax incentives to the multi-billion dollar animal products industry to export overseas, according to documents from the Chinese government outlining the rebates.  

It comes just weeks after China’s National People’s Congress issued a ban on the sale and consumption of wild animals in the country amid fears the practice may have sparked the coronavirus pandemic.

The ban acknowledged the concern felt by many that the practice was a risk to public health, but this has not stopped the government encouraging the sale of such products overseas.

Meanwhile wet markets in Wuhan, where the virus is thought by many to have originated, are starting to reopen as the country slowly lifts its lockdown measures.

Wet markets are marketplaces where locals buy and trade perishable goods, including meat, fish and vegetables, but are perhaps most well-known for the sale of wild animals for their meat. The term is often used when describing a live animal market, in which sellers slaughter animals upon purchase. 

An example of a Chinese wet market in Macau, China, in which wild animals are sold for human consumption. Since the coronavirus outbreak, the practice have been banned in China

In a statement issued at the time of the ban, specifically prohibiting the sale of non-aquatic wild animals, a spokesman said: ‘The prominent problem of recklessly eating wild animals and its potential risk to public health have aroused wide public concern.’

The government also shut down around 20,000 farms that were raising wild animals such as peacocks, porcupines and ostriches.

While there has been no consensus reached on the origins of the virus, a number of studies have indicated that the epicenter of the virus may have been Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, a wet market in the city where the coronavirus is thought to have originated.

Covid-19, the disease millions of people around the globe are currently infected with, and that has killed almost 115,000 people, is one of a family of coronaviruses commonly found in bats.

A working theory is that the virus was passed from bats through another mammal, possibly pangolins – the most trafficked animal in the world for their meat and scales believed by some to have medicinal properties – before infecting humans.

One theory suggests Pangolins, the most trafficked animal in the world, could have passed the virus onto humans. No consensus has been reached yet on how it was transferred. Pictured: Pangolin are watered by a customs officer who confiscated them

One theory suggests Pangolins, the most trafficked animal in the world, could have passed the virus onto humans. No consensus has been reached yet on how it was transferred. Pictured: Pangolin are watered by a customs officer who confiscated them

The public concern was great enough that the government banned the sale and consumption of wild animals, but less than a month after doing so, on the 17 March, China’s China’s Ministry of Finance and tax authority announced they would raise VAT rebates on nearly 1,500 Chinese products.

In a list of products released by the Ministry of Finance detailing which would receive a 9% rebate when exported included edible meat from snakes, turtles, beavers and primates was all included, as were rhino horns and civet musk.

China’s economy was already under pressure from an on-going trade war with the U.S., but since the coronavirus outbreak it has struggled even more due to the sudden global downturn.

China's National People's Congress issued a ban on the sale and consumption of wild animals on the 24 February, but is encouraging the export of such goods less than a month later

China’s National People’s Congress issued a ban on the sale and consumption of wild animals on the 24 February, but is encouraging the export of such goods less than a month later

The new tax incentives introduced by the government cover a broad range of exports in an attempt to try and support Chinese industries that have been impacted by the global downturn.

A report undertaken by the Congressional Research Service, which delivers unbiased and non-partisan information to members of China’s Congress, specifically highlighted the export of wild animals as a concern, saying it could: ‘spread the risk to global markets.’

While products go primarily to countries close to China, such as Vietnam, data from Trade Data Monitor and reported on by Fox News showed that the U.S. was the most prolific importer of China’s animal products to be used in pharmaceuticals, importing $1 million worth between January and February this year. 

Wet markets also sell a number of other perishable goods, such as vegetables (pictured), but they have become infamous for the trade of wild animals for consumption

Wet markets also sell a number of other perishable goods, such as vegetables (pictured), but they have become infamous for the trade of wild animals for consumption

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is now urging countries globally to close wet markets as consensus of the risk they post to humans grows.

While the sale of wild animals is now banned in China, wet markets in Wuhan are beginning to open again as the country lifts some of its lockdown restrictions.

Due the pathogens being able to spread quickly between animals and humans, the WHO and other public health organisations are all urging such markets to be shut down to reduce the risk of another pandemic in the future.

WHO special envoy on Covid-19 and special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Food Security and Nutrition, Dr David Nabarro, told BBC Radio 4’d Today programme while organisations like the WHO don’t have the capacity to ‘police the world,’ they can offer advice.

‘There’s very clear advice from the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the WHO that said there are real dangers in these kinds of environments, pathogens hopping from animals to humans,’ he said.

’75 per cent of emerging infections come from the animal kingdom. So we really do plead with governments and plead with just about everybody else to be respectful.’

During the coronavirus lockdown in the country, wet markets were closed to the public, but as the lockdown has been lifted, they are beginning to open once more

During the coronavirus lockdown in the country, wet markets were closed to the public, but as the lockdown has been lifted, they are beginning to open once more

Meanwhile, as efforts are made to establish how exactly the virus started and where it originated from, Chinese officials have taken steps to clamp down on research into these facts.

Government officials have reportedly demanded the right to inspect scientific papers researching the origins of the coronavirus before they are made public. 

Two websites for leading Chinese universities have allegedly recently published and then removed pages that discuss a new policy which requires academic papers about Covid-19 to undergo extra checks before they are published, according to The Guardian. 

Both Fudan University and the China University of Geosciences (Wuhan) allegedly posted notices saying that research on the origins of the coronavirus will be subject to government checks. 

The director of the SOAS China Institute in London, Professor Steve Tsang, said that the Chinese government is more concerned with ‘controlling the narrative’ surrounding coronavirus than public health or economic fallout. 

He told The Guardian: ‘If these documents are authentic it would suggest the government really wants to control the narrative about the origins of Covid-19 very tightly.’

The source who found the cached versions of the websites said they were concerned at what appeared to be a governmental coverup. 

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