Japanese agricultural co-operative union to undergo reform under new leadership

Japan : The president of Japan’s Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives (JA-Zenchu) has announced he will be stepping down.

JA-Zenchu will hold an extraordinary general meeting in August to elect a successor.

Mr Akira Banzai, who has been leading the organisation since 2011, is on his third term, which was due to expire in 2017.

Commenting on his resignation, he said he wanted to enable a new president to take forward the reform of JA-Zenchu. The announcement comes after the Japanese government approved a plan to revise the agricultural co-operatives law. Mr Banzai accepted the reform plan in February after meeting with senior leaders of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan.

The bill aims to boost the country’s agricultural sector and increase farmers’ income by giving local co-operatives greater autonomy in production, procurement and distribution. Under the current agricultural co-operatives law,

JA-Zenchu is responsible for instructing and auditing the country’s 690 agricultural co-ops.

The bill is the first to drastically reform the country’s agricultural co-operatives system in 60 years. The union will retain its status as representative of regional agricultural co-operatives and continue to provide banking and insurance services for co-ops and non-farmers.

But the reform will also see JA-Zenchu become a non-profit foundation by March 2019, losing the authority it currently has in terms of auditing and guiding local co-ops.

JA-Zenchu could also lose ¥8bn that it currently collects from regional co-operatives as well as its ability to represent these in meetings with senior agriculture ministry officials.

The Prime Minister is attending a summit in Washington later this month where he will also be meeting President Barack Obama. The two countries are currently negotiating Japan’s participation in the proposed 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

JA-Zenchu has been one of the big lobbying organisations opposing the deal on the grounds that it would damage local farmers. Under the TPP trade deal, Japan would need to allow higher imports as well as cut or remove some high tariffs on rice, wheat, dairy products, sugar, beef and pork, which are currently imposed in order to protect farmers.

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