China looks to green economy to hit GDP growth target of 7.5 per cent

Country also puts focus on consumers to drive growth.

At the annual meeting of the National People's Congress in Beijing, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao announced that the growth target for the PRC would remain at 7.5 per cent, the same as last year. In 2012, China only just made the target, as growth slowed to its most leisurely rate in 13 years, expanding by "just" 7.8 per cent.

While the growth goal remains the same, China has lowered its inflation goal to 3.5 per cent, and is planning to increase its budget deficit by 50 per cent to £128bn to "maintain support for economic growth", according to Jiabao.

Separately, the National Development and Reform Commission reported its own targets, aiming for an 8 per cent increase in foreign trade (down from 10 per cent).

As well as the economic targets, China also used the draft budget to announce an increase in military spending, growing 10.7 per cent to £76.41 billion. The Financial Times' Kathrin Hille adds:

Despite the increasingly tense regional climate, experts agree that the days of the sharpest defence spending hikes are over.
This year’s 10.7 per cent increase is roughly in line with last year’s 11.2 per cent hike and a 12.7 per cent increase in 2011.
These figures compare with annual average increases of 16.5 per cent between 2000 and 2009 and 15.7 per cent between 1990 and 1999, according to a forthcoming article by Adam Liff and Andrew Erickson, two US experts on Chinese military affairs.

China's insistence that it will hit the 7.5 per cent growth target indicates the country is not concerned that it may experience a "hard landing" — a quicker-than-expected decline from its current levels of growth to the developed-nation norm of 2-3 per cent. The country has, however, experienced some problems following its current model of growth, which Reuters describes as "investment-driven" and "export-oriented".

As the rest of the world struggles on through the most prolonged depression in living memory, China's export strength has started to look like a double-edged sword, exposing it to weakness it would otherwise be inured to. And its investment-driven growth has also led to massive "ghost cities", hundreds of thousands of new homes built with no-one living in them.

Instead, Jiabao seemed to highlight a model of development which fits with the trend started by the proposal of a Chinese carbon tax, telling the assembly:

The state of the ecological environment affects the level of people's well-being and also posterity and the future of our nation. We should adhere to the basic state policy of conserving resources and protecting the environment and endeavor to promote green, circular and low-carbon development.

But the country still has massive internal issues to overcome before it can really change tack on growth. Local government in China has tremendous independence, and will need to get on board with the plans. Reuters reports:

In a separate document, the Ministry of Finance said it was raising the quota for bonds issued by local governments to 350 billion yuan in 2013, compared with 250 billion yuan in 2012.
It also pledged to further strengthen regulation of local government debt and curb irregular financing activities.

The government has its work cut out.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

George Osborne's mistakes are coming back to haunt him

George Osborne's next budget may be a zombie one, warns Chris Leslie.

Spending Reviews are supposed to set a strategic, stable course for at least a three year period. But just three months since the Chancellor claimed he no longer needed to cut as far or as fast this Parliament, his over-optimistic reliance on bullish forecasts looks misplaced.

There is a real risk that the Budget on March 16 will be a ‘zombie’ Budget, with the spectre of cuts everyone thought had been avoided rearing their ugly head again, unwelcome for both the public and for the Chancellor’s own ambitions.

In November George Osborne relied heavily on a surprise £27billion windfall from statistical reclassifications and forecasting optimism to bury expected police cuts and politically disastrous cuts to tax credits. We were assured these issues had been laid to rest.

But the Chancellor’s swagger may have been premature. Those higher income tax receipts he was banking on? It turns out wage growth may not be so buoyant, according to last week’s Bank of England Inflation Report. The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggest the outlook for earnings growth will be revised down taking £5billion from revenues.

Improved capital gains tax receipts? Falling equity markets and sluggish housing sales may depress CGT and stamp duties. And the oil price shock could hit revenues from North Sea production.

Back in November, the OBR revised up revenues by an astonishing £50billion+ over this Parliament. This now looks a little over-optimistic.

But never let it be said that George Osborne misses an opportunity to scramble out of political danger. He immediately cashed in those higher projected receipts, but in doing so he’s landed himself with very little wriggle room for the forthcoming Budget.

Borrowing is just not falling as fast as forecast. The £78billion deficit should have been cut by £20billion by now but it’s down by just £11billion. So what? Well this is a Chancellor who has given a cast iron guarantee to deliver a surplus by 2019-20. So he cannot afford to turn a blind eye.

All this points towards a Chancellor forced to revisit cuts he thought he wouldn’t need to make. A zombie Budget where unpopular reductions to public services are still very much alive, even though they were supposed to be history. More aggressive cuts, stealthy tax rises, pension changes designed to benefit the Treasury more than the public – all of these are on the cards. 

Is this the Chancellor’s misfortune or was he chancing his luck? As the IFS pointed out at the time, there was only really a 50/50 chance these revenue windfalls were built on solid ground. With growth and productivity still lagging, gloomier market expectations, exports sluggish and both construction and manufacturing barely contributing to additional expansion, it looks as though the Chancellor was just too optimistic, or perhaps too desperate for a short-term political solution. It wouldn’t be the first time that George Osborne has prioritised his own political interests.

There’s no short cut here. Productivity-enhancing public services and infrastructure could and should have been front and centre in that Spending Review. Rebalancing the economy should also have been a feature of new policy in that Autumn Statement, but instead the Chancellor banked on forecast revisions and growth too reliant on the service sector alone. Infrastructure decisions are delayed for short-term politicking. Uncertainty about our EU membership holds back business investment. And while we ought to have a consensus about eradicating the deficit, the excessive rigidity of the Chancellor’s fiscal charter bears down on much-needed capital investment.

So for those who thought that extreme cuts to services, a harsh approach to in-work benefits or punitive tax rises might be a thing of the past, beware the Chancellor whose hubris may force him to revive them after all. 

Chris Leslie is chair of Labour's backbench Treasury committee.