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2014年5月21日 (水)

農協改革案 解体的出直しは避けられない

The Yomiuri Shimbun 7:14 pm, May 20, 2014
Overhaul of JA Group inevitable for rebuilding national agriculture
農協改革案 解体的出直しは避けられない

A sweeping overhaul of the JA Group is unavoidable for reconstruction of Japan’s agriculture.

The Council for Regulatory Reform, a government advisory panel, has drafted an agricultural reform proposal aimed at revising the Agricultural Cooperatives Law to achieve the main goal of abolishing the current agricultural hierarchy headed by the Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives (JA-Zenchu), which supervises about 700 regional agricultural cooperatives across the country.

The panel also has proposed transforming the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (Zen-noh), which has been engaged in the collection and selling of farm products, into a joint-stock corporation.

Zenchu’s management guidance has been criticized as being too uniform and hindering farmers’ efforts to promote innovative agricultural business.

It is understandable that the reform panel has come up with such a harsh proposal, questioning Zenchu’s leadership by saying it “fails to play a sufficient role in agricultural promotion.”

The panel appears to believe that the way toward “aggressive farming” can be opened by encouraging the self-sustainability of regional agricultural cooperatives and pushing for independent management based on regional characteristics.

If Zen-noh is converted to a joint-stock corporation as proposed by the panel, it will help procure funds more easily, and it will become possible to expand sales channels and distribute agricultural products more efficiently.

The reform proposal calls for deregulation to spur corporate participation in agriculture and review of agricultural committees set up in municipalities, which have the power of authorization over agricultural land transactions.

It is immensely significant that farm minister Yoshimasa Hayashi has highly lauded the reform proposal, saying: “Voices have arisen that agricultural cooperatives have not lived up to the expectations of farmers. There is a common awareness of this problem.”

Bedrock control

The government plans to incorporate a drastic agricultural reform in its new growth strategy it will compile in June. Agriculture represents a field where so-called bedrock regulations are imposed. It is necessary to work out measures that will have practical effects.

Zenchu vocally opposes the reform proposal, arguing, “There is a big problem with the proposal because it threatens to dismantle the JA Group.” It seems that Zenchu persistently wants to go ahead with a self-reform plan it put together in April.

However, this reform plan falls far short of presenting decisive steps, and there is no denying that anxiety over the JA Group is superficial. It cannot be helped that the JA Group has been pressured to carry out drastic reform.

Japan’s agriculture has been in a state of gradual decline. Agricultural income has halved in the past two decades while the fields and rice paddies that have been abandoned during the same period doubled. The average age of farmers has reached about 66, reflecting the aging of the farming population.

Greater market access for agricultural trade is a focal point as the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations have entered their final stage. Unless improvement in productivity and competitiveness can be achieved with measures that focus on farmers, the opportunity to rebuild agriculture will be lost.

Nevertheless, the agricultural cooperatives wield strong political power. Cautious views of a drastic organizational review have been smoldering, centering on Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers elected from agricultural constituencies.

Can agricultural reform make progress while at the same time avoid a backlash from the agricultural cooperatives and Diet lawmakers with vested interests in agriculture? The Abe administration is being put to the test in this regard.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 20, 2014)


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