Sun, Jun 15, 2008 - Page 3 News List

Council denies price decision designed to help president

STAFF WRITER, WITH CNA

The government's decision to moderate an increase in fertilizer prices was not timed to coincide with President Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) grassroots visit to southern Taiwan today, Council of Agriculture (COA) Minister Chen Wu-hsiung (陳武雄) said on Friday.

Chen said he had promised on May 30 to discuss the original price hikes, which had aroused farmers’ ire toward the state-controlled Taiwan Fertilizer Co (台肥) over the past two weeks.

“Since Friday was the deadline, I had to deliver on my promise,” Chen said, repeating that the announcement was not made to create a favorable atmosphere for Ma’s visit.

Ma is scheduled to visit Siluo (西螺) in Yunlin County and Budai in Chiayi County today to call on friends in the fishery and agricultural sectors he made during his “long stay” program when he was campaigning for the presidency.

This will be Ma’s first grassroots tour since he took office on May 20. The president has been criticized for failing to heed earlier calls to visit the towns to show his concern for victims of floodings after recent heavy downpours. Chen and two of his deputies will accompany Ma on his visit.

The council had originally pledged to absorb 70 percent of the fertilizer price hikes needed to bring local prices in line with the soaring costs of raw materials, with farmers paying for the remaining 30 percent.

But Chen announced on Friday that Taiwan Fertilizer would now absorb an additional 15 percent of the increase, which, along with the rising costs of materials, would cost the company an estimated NT$1.22 billion (US$39.4 million) this year.

Under the new plan, farmers will pay an average 22.3 percent more for fertilizer, instead of 42.6 percent more under the original plan.

The council announced on May 28 that from May 30, prices of fertilizer produced by Taiwan Fertilizer Co would rise by between 33 percent and 70 percent to reflect rising global raw material prices.

Hundreds of farmers from central and southern Taiwan gathered outside the Legislative Yuan last Friday to protest the hikes, warning that they would stage a bigger demonstration if the government failed to respond to their requests.

They also demanded that the government tighten its crackdown on fertilizer hoarding and price manipulation and increase the guaranteed price paid to local farmers for their crops.

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