Saturday, 5 January 2008

Asian consumers fear oil rise will add to daily struggle

Source: AFP

SINGAPORE • From a Beijing cab driver to a vendor selling food wrapped in banana leaves at a Jakarta roadside, life for ordinary people in Asia is set to get even tougher after the price of oil hit $100.

Consumers across the region griped about the rising cost of fuel after crude oil hit $100 per barrel for the first time during trading in New York on Wednesday.

“What can I do? I just suffer,” 30-year-old businesswoman Sirintra Vanno complained at a petrol station in Bangkok. “I have no choice but to drive every day to go to work because public transportation services are so limited.”

Nena, an elderly woman who sells meals wrapped in banana leaves by the roadside in Jakarta, said higher fuel prices had dramatically cut her daily income over the past few months from 60,000 rupiah to 35,000 rupiah.

“I have to buy things at higher prices now but I cannot raise the price of food every time kerosene rises,” she said.

Hery, 54, a motorcycle taxi driver in Jakarta, said he feared rising oil prices would lead to cuts in government subsidies for the cooking fuel, which costs 6,000 rupiah (64 cents) per litre.
“It will be out of reach” if the price goes higher, he said.

Australian truck driver Doug McMillan said the rising oil price
was having a devastating impact on his business, which uses trailers to deliver farm equipment across the country's vast Outback.

McMillan said fuel costs used to account for about one-third of his expenditure but were now 55 percent-and rising.

“By the time you pay your drivers' wages, there's no profit left,” he said as he drove one of his rigs.

Song Haisheng, a 30-year-old taxi driver in Beijing, said he too was under pressure, adding he and many of his colleagues were barely surviving at current petrol prices.

“In order to save fuel, many taxi drivers now would rather park and queue along the street like this than cruise blindly as we used to do in search of customers,” he said as he queued outside an office building in Beijing.

The Chinese government caps the prices at which refiners can sell their products, partly shielding consumers from the immediate impact of global oil spikes.

But it allowed refiners to raise domestic fuel prices by roughly 10 percent in November and ordinary Chinese now fear more hikes, with even the more well-off feeling the impact of record fuel prices.

“Nowadays I try not to travel by car when going on business trips and instead opt for the train as much as possible,” said Huang, 42, who would only give his surname as he waited for his company driver to pick him up in Beijing.

On the streets of Manila, taxi driver Mario Agbayani was also worried.

“If pump prices continue to rise, I will be forced to look for another job because what I would be earning in a day would not be enough to even buy petrol,” the 40-year-old father of three said.
He spends 12 hours a day on Manila's chaotic roads but takes home only 500 pesos (about $12) after expenses.

Japanese businessman Narihisa Murakami, 38, said in Tokyo that ordinary folks were powerless in the face of rising fuel prices, calling them “a real problem” and adding that fuel economy had become key when buying a car.

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