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Mobile vegetable vendors bring cut prices, conflicts

(China Daily)

09:07, October 17, 2011

BEIJING / SHENZHEN, Guangdong - Mobile vegetable stalls, which are being promoted by the government as a way to ease the burden of inflation on Chinese consumers, could lead to major conflicts among rival traders, experts warned on Sunday.

The government began encouraging farmers to sell their produce directly to urban residents starting this month.

However, following a violent confrontation over the weekend in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, observers warned that the cut-price stalls will face tough opposition.

According to media reports, an employee at the Huijia Supermarket in the city's Longgang district struck the face of a man who had set up a mobile stall outside the store on Saturday afternoon.

Witnesses said the stall had attracted a lot of customers.

"The conflict in Shenzhen is a phenomenon amid inflation and will happen in other areas if the government continues to promote mobile vegetable carts," said Gu Jun, a professor of sociology at Shanghai University.

He urged authorities to improve the management of mobile traders to avoid similar incidents elsewhere, although he said "that still won't deal with the root of the problem, which is inflation".

Promoting direct trade between farmers and consumers will harm other people usually involved in the sales chain, resulting in more conflicts, he warned.

"All sellers devote their time and energy to their work. They can't cope with the government depriving them in this way," said Gu, who added that authorities could strike a balance by reducing taxes or rental fees for retailers, or giving them subsidies.

"If the government can't resolve the conflicts with money, violence could become more serious and frequent," he said.

Premier Wen Jiabao urged farmers to sell directly to urban communities, schools and supermarkets during a visit to Beijing's Beihang community on Oct 1, Xinhua News Agency reported.

"We need to cut intermediaries and lower the rising costs of vegetables," he was quoted as saying.

Mobile vending services were set up nationwide after Wen's speech. By the end of October, Shenzhen will have 300 carts delivering fresh vegetables direct to 900 communities every morning and afternoon.

On average, prices from these traveling vendors are 30 percent lower than in the city's markets.

Similar stalls are also burgeoning in Beijing. Liu Tong, director of statistics at the Xinfadi Wholesale Market, the biggest farm produce market in Beijing, said the capital already has several direct sale stalls. Although he would not comment on the policy, he admitted he is concerned for supermarkets.

"They have rent to pay, water and electricity bills and taxes, as well as their workers," he said. "If cheap mobile stalls take their business, where will these people go?"

However, Hu Shoujun, a sociology professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, said he believed the competition is "healthy".

"The (direct sales) policy, which aims to ease inflation in the county, is a good one," he said. "If the management of supermarkets is done well enough, I don't think violent cases will occur."

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