Agriculture minister Koya Nishikawa said Tuesday, Dec. 16, that the government hopes to submit a bill to revise the Agricultural Co-operative Society Law to the Diet in February at the earliest, although indicating that it may be delayed due to opposing views among the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the agricultural co-op group.
Government officials had indicated their will to submit the bill to the ordinary Diet session which will start next January, but had not given a specific timing.
Nishikawa explained that he expects the budget bill for fiscal 2015 to be discussed and passed in the Lower House in February and in the Upper House in March before the Diet start discussing other bills in April. “The ideal schedule for us would be to aim at submitting (the bill to revise the agricultural co-op law) around the time when the Lower House Budget Committee ends discussion of the budget bill and the deliberation is passed on to the Upper House,” Nishikawa said, hinting that the bill would be submitted in February or March.
However, regarding the bill to revise the law, wide gaps exist among those concerned, especially on the auditing authority of central and prefectural agricultural unions over primary farm co-ops (JAs). While LDP lawmakers who are close to the agriculture industry and the JA group want to maintain the legal authority, the Cabinet Office and the government’s Regulatory Reform Council are calling for the abolishment of such authority.
Taking into account such differing views, Nishikawa said it would be “quite difficult” to compile the bill. He said the government will step up efforts to come to conclusion with the LDP and the JA group, considering that the process has been already delayed by the snap election held earlier this month.
Government ministers focus again on agricultural co-ops reform
Discussions on reforming agricultural co-ops, which had been low-keyed during the snap election campaigns, came back to the table as government ministers call for the need to carry out deregulation.
At a press conference held on Monday, Dec. 15, a day after the election, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed the government will take decisive action to take deregulatory measures in sectors including agriculture. On the following day, Haruko Arimura, minister of state for regulatory reform, said in a press conference that a gap exists between the Japan Agricultural Co-operatives (JA) group’s self-reform plan and the government’s view, expressing a strong will to reform the group’s system centered on central and prefectural unions. The agriculture working group of the government’s Regulatory Reform Council held a meeting on the same day.
Debates on agricultural reform remained low-toned throughout the election campaigns. Especially concerning the reform of agricultural co-ops, which has been the focus of debates, the Liberal Democratic Party’s campaign pledges went only as far as stating it will “deepen discussion” on the issue, as if they were trying to avoid making it a point of dispute. Abe never touched on the issue in his campaign speeches.
However, a day after winning a landslide victory in the Dec. 14 election, Abe stressed that he won public confidence in pushing forward his Abenomics policies including agricultural reform. He said he will conduct aggressive deregulation in such areas as agriculture and medical services and pursue the government’s growth strategy.
On the same day, Motoyuki Oka, head of the Regulatory Reform Council, also stressed that the council will strongly call on the government to take away legal authority from central and prefectural unions of farm co-ops when submitting a bill to revise the Agricultural Co-operative Society Law to the ordinary Diet session next year.
On Tuesday, Dec. 16, Arimura touched on the council’s proposal to transform the Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives (JA-Zenchu) into an ordinary incorporated association, and said that concerned parties should come to consensus on the issue, apparently pressuring the JA group.
The Regulatory Reform Council’s agriculture working group invited young beginning farmers to their meeting held the same day and listened to their requests towards the government, agricultural co-ops and agricultural committees set up in municipalities to manage farmland transactions. The farmers said agricultural policies should be more supportive of motivated farmers. They also said they have few chances to communicate with agricultural committees, adding that they want the committees to listen to them and give them advice.
(Dec. 17, 2014)