Wed, Jan 05, 2000 - Page 1 News List

Farmland legislation passed

CONTROVERSY Amendments allowing non-farmers to buy agricultural land were pushed through amid protests by both legislators and farmers

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Legislators celebrate the passage of the Agricultural Development Law at the Legislative Yuan yesterday.

PHOTO: YEH JEN-HAO, LIBERTY TIMES

Lawmakers yesterday passed a set of controversial amendments to the Agricultural Development Law, despite attempts at a boycott by New Party lawmakers on the floor of the legislature and a protest by farmers outside the building.

And in what is seen as a blatant attempt to win votes in the upcoming presidential election, Vice President Lien Chan (連戰) yesterday promised to establish a NT$150 billion agricultural development fund as well as another NT$100 billion agricultural relief fund to pave the way for Taiwan's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Hsu Wen-fu (許文富), former chief of the now defunct Taiwan Provincial Government's department of agriculture and forestry (農林廳), said the timing of the passage of the amendments was not coincidental.

"It isn't really what farmers want. It's what politicians want. The KMT is trying to buy votes from farmers," said Hsu.

Amendments to the Agricultural Development Law, dubbed "Taiwan's second land reform bill in 50 years," has sparked fierce debate among officials, scholars, and lawmakers, particularly after two different versions of the proposed amendments appeared.

The first version was the brainchild of former Council of Agriculture chairman Peng Tso-kwei (彭作奎), who last month resigned in protest against a second version prepared by KMT legislators.

Peng's proposed amendments called for restrictions on building on farmland, saying such construction should be carried out in "communities," while the KMT legislative caucus' version favored allowing the individual construction of buildings.

The amendments passed yesterday also allow non-farmers to buy farmland, allow construction of farmhouses on newly-purchased farmland and set the minimum size for farmland division at 0.25 hectares.

The amendments also give power to local governments to decide whether to allow farmers without buildings on their land to apply to build either in collective villages or on individual plots, as well as to determine the qualifications for applicants and approve plans for construction.

The law stipulates that the government should establish a NT$150 billion agricultural development fund, with the money coming from a tax levied on the value added to land by its rezoning for an alternative use. Should the collected revenue be insufficient, the government has to make up the shortfall.

National Taiwan University agricultural economics professor Jerry Geaun (官俊榮) said the law will have an adverse effect in the long run.

"Once non-farmers are allowed to buy farmland, prices are expected to rise. This will drive up the cost of agricultural production and reduce Taiwan's competitiveness and that's not a good sign," he said.

Geaun also called for more rather than fewer regulations on farmland use.

"Since the law allows the rezoning of farmland based on use, we need other agricultural-related laws to help manage the farmland; the eight other agricultural-related bills waiting for passage by the legislature are not yet comprehensive enough."

Geaun said that the law itself is actually a political by-product.

"It's not what the majority of farmers want; it's actually a compromise produced by minority interest groups," he said.

Despite Hsu's claims that the amendments were politically motivated, he still approved of their passage.

"Previously only farmers could buy and sell farmland, but now non-farmers can also step in, and the government will control the release of farmland based on the total amount of land available."

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