Yesterday's agricultural summit formulated a five-point consensus on future reform of the sector.
The points were: making the Cabinet's Council of Agriculture the sole agency for supervising farmers' and fishermen's associations' credit units, to establish a national agricultural bank, to speedily enact an agricultural financing law, to take appropriate measures to protect deposits in the credit units and to increase the competitiveness of the agricultural industry.
The conference was attended by 160 delegates from the government and the agricultural sector and lasted nine hours.
Farmers' and fishermen's representatives had requested the establishment of a government-invested bank and the passage by the legislature of the agricultural financing bill during the current legislative session.
Although neither the farmers and fishermen's requests nor the conclusions reached at the nine-hour meeting are binding on the government, Premier Yu Shyi-kun yesterday said that the government will refer to the consensus reached at the meeting while formulating government policies in the future.
As well as recognizing the contribution of farmers' and fishermen's associations over the years, President Chen Shui-bian (
"We're not trying to wipe out the farmers and fishermen's associations as some have claimed, we're instead trying to help them and save them from deteriorating," Chen said. "Only with soundly managed grassroots credit units can the farmers' and fishermen's associations survive and farmers' and fishermen's deposits safeguarded."
In order to reform, Chen said that the government should aim at four goals.
"First of all, the government should strengthen its efforts to improve the livelihood of farmers in addition to continuing the senior farmers' pension and farmers insurance programs, offering subsidies to those farmers whose fields have to go fallow, and presenting the draft bill of the agricultural financing law as soon as possible," Chen said.
Secondly, Chen said, as the functions and services offered by farmers' and fishermen's associations are unique and irreplaceable, the government should allocate funding to help them continue their services such as the promotion and marketing of local agricultural produce.
To satisfy the financial needs of farmers and fishermen, Chen said, the government should offer preferential rates to those farmers and fishermen who are genuinely in need of loans, most of which are quite small.
The grassroots financial institutions of farmers' and fishermen's associations desperately need reforms to ensure the sustainable development of the agricultural sector, Chen said.
"The government should also punish those who illegally and deliberately hollow out the grassroots credit co-ops swiftly, appropriately, and impartially," he said.
To mitigate the impact on the government of the reform fiasco in recent weeks, Chen requested the Executive Yuan take the initiative to communicate and negotiate with farmers and fishermen to prevent any possible misunderstanding of government initiatives in the future.
"I am calling on the the public to support the government's resolve to push for reforms and to work hand in hand with the government for the nation's future and prosperity," Chen said.
Yu, who addressed the closing ceremony yesterday afternoon, said that the government wanted to establish an agricultural financing system that can safeguard the best interest of farmers and fishermen.
"There's no doubt that we'll continue down the road of reform. We may adjust our steps along the way but we'll never stop," Yu said. "I'm here to guarantee you that we'll make good on our promises and take care of the well-being of farmers and fishermen."
However, injecting more government funding into the agricultural sector is not the only way to improve the industry, Yu said.
"Taiwan's agricultural sector has to transform itself from being labor-intensive to being more technology-based to survive in an age of globalization and digitalization," he said. Regarding a NT$15 billion agricultural development fund and a NT$10 billion relief fund for the loss of local agricultural produce caused by cheaper imported agricultural goods, Yu said that the government will present amendments to related laws if the public reaches a consensus on the issue.
The legislature has approved the NT$15 billion agricultural development fund which will be allocated in 10 years' time. Farmers and fishermen, however, requested that the government allocate the amount in four years.
* The government should consolidate its agricultural credit-guarantee fund and put the farmers' and fishermen's associations as well as their credit unions under the unified control of the Council of Agriculture.
* A national agricultural cooperative bank should be set up to oversee the operations of the credit unions of the farmers' and fishermen's associations.
* Regarding the protection of deposits in the credit unions, appropriate measures must be taken.
* The government will enact an agricultural finance law as soon as possible.
* Effective steps must be taken to improve the competitiveness of the agricultural sector so as to maintain the sustainable prosperity of farming villages.
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