The world’s oldest monopoly is about to end. For almost 2,600 years the Chinese government has exercised complete control over the sale of table salt. It may have even been the world’s first state-controlled monopoly.

Sometime in the seventh century BC, in Qi state on the Shandong peninsula, the Chinese government established a total dominance over the production and sale of salt.

Around the third century BC the Chinese imperial state used the heavy excise on salt as a levy by which to fund troops and perhaps even pay for the early building of the Great Wall of China.

Several centuries lafter this the China National Salt Industry Corporation (CNSIC) was formally recognised as the sole legal body allowed to retail salt to consumers.

Since then consumers paid exorbitant rates for the product; often three or four more times than the actual cost of bringing it to market.

However, all that is likely to end once the salt producing industry is leberalised and price controls scrapped in 2016.

Curiously, Chines consumers have generally opposed the liquidation of the monopoly. Recent



food scandals have left the 1.4 billion population wary of food producers and the quality of the foodstuffs they are buying. Most recently, tainted milk powder, in 2008, led to hundreds of thousands of infants being ill.

The huge black-market ithat sprung up in response to the excessive salt prices has also had its share of quality problems.

Both of these have consumers questioning whether they will be better or worse off as a result of the liberalisation.’Salt in China.

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