The Abe administration is keen on reforming agricultural cooperatives, which it regards as one of Japan’s “bedrock” interest groups guarded by regulations. But the administration has yet to provide a convincing explanation on how its reform plan will help make Japan’s farming sector stronger and enhance consumer interests while also preserving agriculture’s crucial role in land conservation and environmental protection. If the administration’s reform effort falls short in these areas, it could end up being reform just for the sake of reform, with most citizens reaping little or no benefits.
One of the focuses of the reform plan is to strip the Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives, widely known as JA-Zenchu — an apex body of agricultural cooperative organizations (JA group) nationwide — of its power to audit local cooperatives and check their activities. Currently inspectors certified by the state and belonging to JA-Zenchu — which formulates common guidelines and programs for local cooperatives — audit their financial statements and their compliance with laws and regulations.
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