( AP ) - China's government has issued a wide-reaching order to speed up food shipments to markets as the bad winter lashing much of the country hampers efforts to rein in persisting inflation.
The order, issued late Friday and published in state media Saturday, calls on police, railway bureaus and even gas stations to do all they can to ensure timely delivery of food supplies after snow and ice storms clogged roads, cut electricity and delayed deliveries.
Under the measure, food trucks will be exempt from paying road tolls.
"The transportation of fresh farm products - including vegetables, fruits, livestock and poultry - faces an extraordinarily grave situation as another round of widespread continuous rain and snow will hit the country," said the notice issued by the executive office of the State Council, the Cabinet.
Potential shortages in food and energy would add to inflationary pressures coursing through the economy and come just as consumers prepare for their biggest shopping binge of the year - the Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival.
The latest measures are intended to "guarantee market supplies for the Spring Festival and sustain basic price stability," the State Council said.
Complicating the government efforts has been the heaviest snowfall to hit central and southern China in 10 years, and more bad weather has been forecast for upcoming days.
On Saturday, ice, rain and snow closed highways, delayed trains and forced flight cancellations, the government's Xinhua News Agency reported.
The weather downed power lines in Hunan province, bringing 136 trains to a standstill, Xinhua said. State-run television said seven airports in six provinces were temporarily closed.
Double-digit increases in food prices for much of the past year have driven China's overall inflation rate to among its highest levels in a decade. In December, consumer prices were 6.5 percent higher than a year earlier.
In recent days the government has intensified efforts to assert order, setting price controls on many goods and energy supplies and trying to coax farmers to produce more food.
On Friday, government agencies announced higher purchasing prices for wheat and rice and ordered coal bound for export to be diverted to shore up domestic supplies.
The newest government order called on police and roadway departments to give food trucks preferential treatment, waive all tolls and halt the spot inspections and fines that often produce long lines on highways.
Gas stations are prohibited from raising prices and must allow food trucks to fill up their tanks, the directive said, squashing the sales limits some stations have used to make up for recent shortages in petrol supplies.