The head of Japan's powerful farming lobby group said on Thursday he will resign, amid a push by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to liberalize the agricultural sector and secure an Asia-Pacific regional free trade agreement.
Akira Banzai, the president of JA-Zenchu (Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives), said he would be replaced in August when the farming lobby holds an extra general meeting.
The announcement of his resignation came after Japan's cabinet approved last week a plan to revise the agricultural cooperatives law.
In February, the Japan Agriculture (JA) lobby group accepted plans by the Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party to reform the farming sector, which aims to weaken the power of the lobby group and give local cooperatives greater autonomy in their production, procurement and distribution.
Abe cites agricultural reform as one key structural change he wants to implement to spur long-term economic growth.
"I would like a new JA to be created under a new president," Banzai told a news conference.
Under the reforms, JA-Zenchu loses the power to audit local cooperatives and it will also lose its privileged status and become a general incorporated body in five years.
Asked about whether he is taking responsibility and decided to resign, Banzai said the organization can fulfill its role even after it becomes a general incorporated body.
JA-Zenchu has been a big dissenter to Japan's participation in a proposed 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, saying it would damage local farmers.
Japan imposes high tariffs on rice, wheat, diary products, sugar, beef and pork to protect farmers but it would have to cut or remove some and allow higher imports under the TPP.
Abe will meet U.S. President Barack Obama later this month for a summit in Washington and their talks will likely include TPP as the two nations' trade talks play a key for the overall TPP negotiations. (Reporting by Ami Miyazaki; Writing by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Jacqueline Wong & Kim Coghill)