Caixin
Feb 22, 2019 07:56 AM
ECONOMY

No. 1 Policy Document Reaffirms Rural Land Reforms

Key policy document pledges continued reforms to grant more flexibility and rights for rural residents. Photo: VCG
Key policy document pledges continued reforms to grant more flexibility and rights for rural residents. Photo: VCG

China will step up reforms in the rural land system to free up more space for development in the vast countryside and ensure that farmers are treated fairly as part of the country’s long-sought efforts to revitalize rural areas, according to a key policy document released this week.

China will push forward reforms in rural land expropriation and trading and will speed up the establishment of a unified land market between rural and urban areas, according to the government’s No. 1 document (link in Chinese) for this year, which has traditionally focused on issues about farmers, agriculture and rural areas.

The document, jointly issued by the State Council and the Central Committee of the Communist Party, reinforces Beijing’s commitments to promote rural land reform and relax restrictions on farmers’ land use. The document also stresses eradicating poverty and the need to diversify imports amid slowing economic growth and continuing trade tensions with the U.S.

Under current laws, rural land is collectively owned by a village committee on behalf of all villagers. Rural residents can use the land only for agriculture or homebuilding and have no right to sell land. The market has long hoped for reforms that would loosen controls on rural land transactions.

Currently, land owned by village committees that is designated for industrial construction can be sold to developers through public auction after the land has been expropriated by the state. But rural land allotted to farmers for building homes can’t be traded publicly. Such land can now be traded only between farmers in the same village.

However, some local authorities have dodged rules in rural land expropriation and sales amid the strict restrictions, hurting farmers’ legal rights.

China has launched pilot programs to reform the rural land expropriation and trading system in selected regions since 2015 while taking years to revise the Land Administration Law in hopes of clearing legal hurdles for rural land transfer.

This year’s No. 1 document calls for the pilot reform programs to “fully expand” on the basis of law revisions and improving supportive policy arrangements.

“Properly dealing with the relationship between farmers and land is the main theme of deepening rural reforms,” said Agriculture Minister Han Changfu at a Wednesday briefing on the policy document. “Land reform is the driving force to push forward rural reforms.”

Experts have said they expected that the easing of controls on rural land transfers would start from collectively owned industrial construction land, which often has clear ownership. Authorities have remained cautious in pushing forward trading reforms for homestead land as “pilot programs are not adequate and mature,” Han said.

In last year’s No. 1 central document, the government pledged to “moderately relax” controls on rights for rural land allocated for villagers to build homes and houses left vacant by city-bound migrant workers.

Zheng Xinli, executive chairman of the China Policy Science Research Association, estimated in 2018 that homestead land in rural China totaled 170,000 square kilometers. A rising share of the land has been left idle as villagers migrate to cities.

Han said reforms to free up land left behind by migration will be carried out after thorough studies including a comprehensive survey of such land. The No. 1 central document says a nationwide registration of homestead land should be completed by 2020 and rules need to be drafted to clarify the usage of homestead land and test possibilities of switching some homestead land to farming.

The document reaffirms that rural lands are owned by the collectives and will not be privatized.

Contact reporter Han Wei (weihan@caixin.com)

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