The Cabinet is expected to approve the bill to revise the Agricultural Co-operative Society Law on Friday, April 3. The Diet is likely to start full-scale deliberations on the bill after the unified local elections. Although the bill has gone through preliminary review, doubts and concerns over it remain. Members of the Diet, who represent the Japanese people, must conduct constructive debate which will lead to an increase in income of farmers – the main player of agricultural co-ops – and a better rural farming and society.
The basic outline of agricultural co-ops reform, approved by the government’s headquarters for agricultural revitalization in February, became a bill after being adjusted by the government and the ruling bloc. Following discussions within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito, a clause which originally said the “whole system” should be reviewed after five years was changed to leave out the term “whole,” restricting the scope of revision. Moreover, the transition period for changing audits by the Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives (JA-Zenchu) to those by certified public accountants and for shifting central and prefectural unions to new organizations was extended by six months from the original plan. As for the requirement for primary JAs to have certified farmers and professionals of farm-related sales and management occupy a majority of directors, the bill includes a clearer exceptional measure for JAs which do not have a large number of such people as members.
The discussions were led by the “inner meeting,” a small group of high-ranking LDP politicians with close ties to the farm sector, which apparently lacks transparency. The issue could have been discussed in a more open environment, considering that it is about reforming the JA group which is an independent, autonomous organization, and that it has been a significant concern for a large number of interested parties, especially JAs’ members.
Even before the bill is submitted, agricultural co-ops reform has been attracting attention in the Diet. In his key policy speech delivered on Thursday, Feb. 12, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his strong will to reform agricultural co-ops for the first time in 60 years. But the government has not made a convincing argument on the question of why it is necessary to conduct reform focusing on weakening the control of central and prefectural unions.
From now on, it is important to avoid creating confusion among JAs and their members by clarifying measures to help them shift to the new system without extra burden. The government must prevent cases in which the revision of the law, after it is enacted, ends up not fitting the reality. The ruling parties also have the responsibility to make sure the revision leads to the ultimate goals of increasing farmers’ income and revitalizing rural areas. The Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, is preparing a counterproposal to the bill. The ruling bloc should listen sincerely to opposition parties’ voices through Diet deliberations and make necessary changes if they find any faults in the bill.
The JA group is actively working on compiling and conducting concrete measures to increase farmers’ income through assisting ambitious farmers and revitalize regions by providing a comprehensive set of services which functions as local infrastructure. The revision of the law should be the one to back up these efforts made on their own terms.
In order to realize agricultural reform including reform of farm co-ops, convincing JAs rooted in local communities of the need for reforms and gaining their support is indispensable. After the government’s Council for Regulatory Reform released in May a radical reform plan which ignores farmers’ situations, primary JAs and their members are watching the ongoing debate with worries and dissatisfaction. As agriculture minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said, close communication with farmers is extremely important to eliminate their concerns. That is why thorough deliberations by the Diet are an absolute must.
(April 3, 2015)