【Opinion】Joint efforts vital to fight against intentions behind agricultural cooperatives reform (Sep. 27, 2016)

[By Yoichi Tashiro, professor emeritus at Otsuma Women’s University]

With the Diet session opening, there is one thing we have to make clear before the start of deliberations on agricultural policies: exactly why and how agricultural cooperatives are attacked.

The true intentions behind attacks on farm coops can be seen in the two unsettled issues listed in the Regulatory Reform Council’s second report released in June 2015. The first is to turn primary cooperatives’ credit business into branches and agents. The second is to demutualize institutions affiliated with agricultural cooperatives, including the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (ZEN-NOH), the Norinchukin Bank, and federations under the prefectural agricultural cooperative unions engaging in financial and mutual insurance businesses.

As for the first goal, the logic is that if non-farmer members’ use of services offered by agricultural cooperatives would be restricted, the cooperatives’ credit business would be squeezed and have no other choice but to become branches and agents.

As for the second goal, it is explained that if the institutions become incorporated, all the shares will be held by agricultural cooperatives so there is no fear of the institutions being taken over by nonagricultural firms or foreign companies. But this is where the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement comes in. If foreign firms sue the Japanese government under the investor-state dispute settlement (ISD) system, claiming that farm coops keeping all the Norinchukin Bank shares goes against the interests of foreign investors, it would be difficult for the government to win the suit.

And if multinational financial services companies manage to obtain Norinchukin Bank shares, agricultural coops’ financial services would also come under the control of foreign firms. This indicates that attacking agricultural coops and supporting the TPP are common goals to open up financial assets of farms and rural communities to foreign investors.

Then how would attackers of agricultural coops realize their goals? They will try to do it through pushing with the issues of farming materials pricing and raw milk marketing – the issues that will be focused on in the coming Diet deliberations.

The main target in the debate on farming materials pricing is ZEN-NOH. Those who insist on demutualizing ZEN-NOH will try to isolate the institution from other agricultural cooperative institutions and claim the problem of high-priced farming materials cannot be solved unless ZEN-NOH gives up its cooperative status and becomes incorporated. They will use the same logic to attack the system of designated raw milk producers organizations as agricultural coops controlling supply and demand. The ideology of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lies more in the supremacy of companies rather than in neoliberalism. He totally denies cooperatives.

Regarding agricultural reform, the government is working on conducting a survey on farmer members. By excluding non-farmer members from the survey, the government is apparently trying to separate the two groups.

The survey is aimed at checking whether each farm coop is seriously discussing all the issues listed in the agricultural reform plan. Primary coops whose members say they don’t feel the momentum for reform would be in trouble.

Global financial corporations’ interests are behind the push for the TPP agreement and agricultural cooperatives reform. How can farm coops fight against such gigantic forces? To tell the truth, the government’s survey is giving us a clue. Agricultural coops’ management, farmer members and non-farmer members, as well as affiliated institutions, should discuss the issues and work together not to give opposition forces any chance to take advantage of the situation. Discussions with local residents are also indispensable.

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