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Land policy a long-term affair  

2013-12-11 05:23:19|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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中国日报 2013年12月10日第9版的一篇文章。

The Decision on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reforms, adopted by the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee, says farmers will get more property rights and ways will be explored to increase rural residents' income from property.

The most important property of farmers is land, which consists of agricultural land, non-farm land for housing, and collective construction land that belongs to village committees. To increase farmers' income from property, the authorities have to promote the transfer of rural land and enable farmers to enjoy the benefits of land transfer.

A debate has been raging for years on whether transfer of rural land should be promoted and whether farmers should be given more stable land property rights. Supporters believe that land transfer can increase farmers' income, and enable rural residents who migrate to cities to buy urban assets by selling their assets back home and help them complete the transition from rural to urban residents. But opponents say that an increase in land transfers will quicken the loss of land and homes for farmers, and without any security, more landless farmers will end up as urban poor, leading to social unrest.

Both arguments, however, are based on the assumption that the transfer of rural land will be complete overnight. Rural land plots that can be transferred are limited. In fact, prices of some "houses with limited property rights" shot up after the plenum issued the document because some people misread its content. They should have realized that the impact of the plenum's decision on the countryside will be in the long run rather than immediate.

Most of the farmers cannot turn their land into saleable (or transferable) asset because of poor liquidity. And even if they can transfer the land, they will earn relatively low profits. For example, rural residents (or city dwellers) rarely go to another village to buy a house. Besides, financial institutions are unwilling to accept rural houses as collateral for loans. Not only are these houses not allowed to be sold, but also it is difficult to find buyers for them when the collateral is auctioned.

The value of land appreciates when it becomes suitable to be developed into a real estate project. Only when agricultural land turns into construction land (that is, suitable for realty projects) will its price increase. The improvement in surrounding infrastructure will push its price further. But even then farmers will not get all the profits from its transfer, because they don't decide local area planning and infrastructure.

To overcome this problem, the plenum decided to establish a distribution mechanism for value-added income from land that takes into account the State, the collective and the individuals, and improve individual benefits reasonably. More detailed rules are needed to establish such a distribution mechanism, which cannot be done just by increasing the compensation to farmers for acquisition of land.

Changing the way of land acquisition cannot increase the income of all farmers. Land planning will become more stringent, and farmers will not be allowed to turn agricultural land into construction land at will. This means land planning and land ownership will get equal importance. Farmers cannot transfer their homes or construction land to a party and then ask their village committees to allocate them plots to build new houses for free, nor can they turn agricultural land into construction land at will.

The plenum document's emphasis is on two types of farmers' property rights: personal property right such as homes, and rural collective property rights such as collectively owned construction land.

Considering land liquidity, strict planning for land use and the existence of collectives, increase in income from property has different meanings for different farmers. A farmer living close to a city can get greater returns from his land because its value will appreciate faster and higher, but since he is more likely than not to be integrated into the urban economy, he would like to retain his land to ensure sustainable income. A farmer in a remote area, on the other hand, will find it difficult to turn his land into a profitable asset.

It is thus evident that farmers' income from property (land) will not see a drastic rise in the immediate future because of the plenum's decision. Also, the plenum document does not make them eligible to buy houses in cities or create a situation in which farmers will lose their property and become destitute and homeless.

Because of the differences in amenities in urban and rural areas, many farmers want to become city dwellers. But becoming urban residents means that farmers have to give up their rural properties. For example, a farmer who gets an urban hukou (household registration) cannot own land in the countryside nor can he own rural collective assets.

That might not have been a problem in the past when rural assets were cheap and urban life was too attractive to resist. But with the increase in the price of rural land, appreciation of rural collective assets and the weakening lure of urban hukou, many farmers are no longer willing to give up their rural properties just to live in cities.

The plenum document says the authorities will protect farmers' rights as members of collective economic organizations, and ensure that they enjoy the right to own, profit from, transfer, mortgage or inherit their share in collective assets. This initiative is important for the promotion of urbanization and increasing agricultural productivity. It will make it easier for farmers in areas with good land liquidity to use land as collateral to get loans from financial institutions for agricultural production.

But we should know that the plenum's decision will take a long time to bear fruits, that is, to raise farmers' income from property.

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