Law on rural land sales to be reviewed

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 September, 2008, 12:00am

Amendment may allow farmers to trade rights to non-arable plots

Mainland authorities will review the amendment of laws to give rural people more freedom to trade rights to their non-farming land - a move that experts believe will pave the way for further land reforms.

A Communist Party plenary session next month will review the amendment of the land management law to allow the transfer of 'rural construction land' - meaning land not used for farming - including plots intended for township enterprises, community facilities and housing, the China Business Journal reported, quoting an anonymous source.

However, it is not clear if the amendments will allow rural residents to transfer all kinds of non-farming land or just the land reserved for township enterprises and public facilities. The Ministry of Land and Resources banned sales of rural residential land this year.

The revision will allow collective entities in the countryside - usually the village committee - to sell land rights to developers without requiring local government approval.

Arable land, which is under strict control because the government is desperate to maintain enough of it to feed the huge population, is not covered by the amendments.

Li Ping , the Beijing representative for the Rural Development Institute, a US group that campaigns for land reform, said the amendments would be a big step towards rural land reform, especially if residential land is included.

Farmers would be the primary beneficiaries if they were allowed to sell their residential land.

'It will be a big step, a step that has been talked about for a long time, but we have never before seen any concrete step,' Dr Li said.

If the new rules apply only to land for town enterprises and rural public facilities, the primary beneficiaries would be the collective entities.

The amendments would have a significant impact on the property market, as land supply would increase significantly.

According to Dr Li, the mainland has 16.5 million hectares of rural construction land, of which 12.3 million hectares is rural residential land.

The pressure to relax controls on the sale of rural construction land has been mounting against the backdrop of rapid urbanisation.

But the mainland is also facing the problem of keeping at least 120 million hectares of arable land, and releasing rural construction land to the property market seems to be the only solution to balance the need for urbanisation with the need to maintain enough arable land for food, according to analysts.

The Ministry of Land and Resources also issued a regulation yesterday instructing local governments to make sure that if they want to use a plot of farmland for other purposes, they must first convert a plot of non-farmland of equal size to arable land.

Dr Li said the government should support the new amendments by educating farmers about their rights, since local cadres had been telling them for decades that land for township enterprises was not theirs.

The property law stipulates clearly that collective land belongs to the members of a collective entity and that it is unlawful for local cadres to pocket the proceeds without distributing them to the members, although the cadres often do, he said.