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2014年4月 7日 (月)

水循環法成立 外資の森林買収に目光らせよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun April 07, 2014
Beware of purchases of forestland in reservoir areas by foreign capital
水循環法成立 外資の森林買収に目光らせよ

The large-scale purchase of forestland—which includes an abundance of forests in reservoir areas—by foreign capital and foreign business proxies must be prevented. A law has just been enacted as the first step toward protecting the nation’s vitally precious land.

Sponsored by a suprapartisan group of Diet members, including those from the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the Democratic Party of Japan, the so-called basic law on water circulation is aimed at conserving water resources. It won unanimous approval in the Diet.

The basic law has defined water resources as a “highly valuable common public asset” and stipulates that both the central government and local entities must act responsibly to conserve them.

Also incorporated into the law is the creation of a “water circulation policy headquarters” headed by the prime minister and a stipulation calling for the government to work out basic plans for conserving water resources.

It is noteworthy that the basic law has been enacted at the initiative of politicians, not bureaucrats, to clarify the stance of protecting the country’s water resources comprehensively.

Serving as one of the triggers for enacting the basic law is the fact that foreign purchases of forests, including those in headwater areas, have taken place one after another.

According to a survey by the Forestry Agency, during a period from 2006 to 2012 the number of forestland purchases by foreign capital stood at 68, with a combined area of about 800 hectares.

For example, it has been learned that Chinese and Hong Kong businesses have purchased forestland in Hokkaido and elsewhere.

In some transactions, foreign businesses purchased forestland using Japanese firms as proxies. As the situation remains far from clear, the known instances of forestland purchases by foreign concerns should be deemed just the tip of the iceberg.

Ordinances insufficient

More and more local governments throughout the country are enacting ordinances to designate specially important reservoir zones and make it obligatory for potential purchasers of forestland to report in advance on the transactions. However, analysts have warned that the effectiveness of this step is limited.

One major reason for this is that even though local governments can detect possible problematic forestland transactions involving either foreign or domestic businesses, it is difficult for local authorities to stop the transactions in a binding way.

Even in such cases where there is a risk of an excessive intake of groundwater and water contamination in forestland acquired by foreign capital, administrative guidance by authorities concerned may be ineffective. If forestland is bought by foreign capital in the vicinity of defense installations, national security could be jeopardized.

It is reasonable for the suprapartisan group of legislators, who showed increasing anxiety over the prevailing situation, to come up with the legislation to clarify the central government’s role in dealing with the matter.

However, the basic law simply notes the need to protect water resources and falls short of reining in forestland purchases by foreign capital. This is not good enough.

The central government, first of all, should promptly embark on fact-finding investigations in tandem with local governments regarding land acquisitions in headwater areas by foreign capital. The government should map out a set of rules similar to those in such countries as the United States and South Korea, which have restricted land acquisitions by foreign capital from the viewpoint of national security.

Naturally it is not appropriate to uniformly restrict land transactions merely because they involve foreign capital. In addition to determining which forestland should be conserved as reservoir areas and for related purposes, restrictions on land deals should be strictly limited to exceptional cases in which land acquisition is considered improper.

The central government should also consider extending assistance to help fund local governments’ plans to purchase tracts of land in reservoir areas to guard against their purchases by foreign capital.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 6, 2014)


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