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What do Minister’s think about Co-operatives?


We recently organized the 10th ICA Asia Pacific Co-operatives Ministers’ conference in Hanoi from April 18 to 21. The Asia-Pacific Co-operative Ministers’ Conference (APCMC) established in 1990 by the International Cooperative Alliance Asia Pacific (ICA-AP), is a quadrennial event to provide a platform for co-operatives and governments to discuss current and emerging issues and set a common agenda towards establishment of new forms of cooperation.  


Cooperative Delegates at the 10th ICA Asia Pacific Co-operatives Ministers’ conference , Hanoi, Vietnam


The backdrop to the conference was the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Devlopment that sets a course to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all by 2030. The 2030 Agenda explicitly recognizes co-operative enterprises as important players within the private sector to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Considering this, the 10th APCMC set the theme: “Visioning Ahead to 2030: Promoting Stronger Partnerships between Government and Co-operative Stakeholders in realizing the SDGs.” The conference focused on issues that came out of Regional Consultations in Jakarta and Kathmandu and the Gulf Cooperative Council meeting - (a) Food Sovereignty – role of producers and consumers, (b) New Co-operative Approaches (Innovation), (c) Public-Private partnership, (d) Co-operatives and the Transition from the Informal into the Formal economy, and (e) Enabling Environment (Legislative and Regulatory Frameworks).  


So, what did the Ministers and representatives from Ministries have to say and commit?


Social Justice

H.E. Madam. Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh, Vice President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam set the tone by pointing to the deep anxiousness in Vietnam and the region caused by increasing protectionism, rising inequality and rapid deterioration of the environment. She said, “The achievements of the globalization process are not allocated equally among countries in the region, co-operatives and population community. The scientific and technological advances can increase the development distance between economies and cooperatives as well as the gap between the rich and poor gap and among people classes in the region.” Mr. Bruno Angelet, Ambassador and Head of the EU delegation to Vietnam quoting the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, who said, “A market can bring peace, but an unregulated market will destroy social justice;” posed the fundamental question: Can the global economy produce growth and profit, as well as social justice? How can we reconcile a market that went global with democracies that stayed local? Can social justice survive at local level, when economic forces are unbound at global level?


Recognition of cooperatives

The co-operative enterprise model which exhibited its resiliency post the global financial meltdown in 2008 and which has sustainability inherent in its DNA is seen answering the call for social justice. Hon. S. Hamid Kalantari, Deputy Minister Co-operatives from the Islamic Republic of Iran said, “The role of co-operatives in employment generation, creation and re-creation of wealth and social-economic opportunities have always been taken into government’s consideration in national development plans. The emphasis the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran lays on co-operative economy as the second economic sector is indicative of its importance.” A similar sentiment was echoed by Mr. Suresh Pradhan, Joint Secretary, speaking on behalf of Mr. Hridayaram Thani, Minister of Co-operatives and Poverty Alleviation, “In Nepal, co-operatives have been given prime importance for economic development of the country. The Constitution of Nepal 2015 has placed the co-operative sector as one of the pillars of the economy along with the public and private sector. The constitution aims the maximum utilization of co-operatives for sustainable economic growth based on social justice and equity.”


New forms and more gender focus

While recognizing the role played by co-operatives in their countries, the Ministers wanted to focus on new and emerging forms of co-operatives with emphasis on mainstreaming gender.  H.E. Joe Y. NatumanDeputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, Tourism, Industry & Cooperatives said, “the Vanuatu Sustainable Development Plan 2016 to 2030” also known as ‘The People’s Plan’ and has three main pillars – Society Pillar, Environment Pillar and Economics Pillar, where co-operatives are expected to make a significant contribution. Vanuatu is a male-dominated society but recent experiences within the co-operative system and in the larger business environment have shown women to be better managers, and these has resulted in improved status for women; with some being elected to management or leadership role in business and regional governments. More emphases are being placed on youth which saw youth forming fishing co-operatives diversifying their business activity to savings and loan; starting a school co-operative, the first of its kind to supply its members with school stationaries and food.” Mr. Eulogio Castillo, Administrator from the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA), Philippines while speaking about the role and importance of co-operatives in promoting equity, social justice and economic development said, “The Philippines has a Gender and Development Program which mandates, among others, every government agency allocate 5% of its budget for Gender and Development or GAD.  The CDA seeks to disseminate to the co-operative sector the GAD mandate to ensure the promotion of gender equality (GE), the institutionalization of GAD policies, programs and activities in every cooperative, and to monitor the progress of GAD programs and activities towards achieving GE.”


Addressing the demographic spectrum

There was unanimity in the call for co-operatives to attract the young and to address needs of aging members. Hon. Lyonpo Y Dorji, Minister Agriculture and Forests, Royal Government of Bhutan said, “Our development ethos is that in pursuing economic development, we must NOT degrade our environment, weaken our culture and break the strong bonds of our society. We believe strongly in inter-generational equity for the benefit of our posterity. In Bhutan, co-operatives are considered as a viable platform for promoting active people's participation in the nation-building and socio-economic development process. His Majesty in his Royal Addresses repeatedly commands that our youth are the future of our country. To engage and empower young people, youth cooperatives are actively promoted. It is also seen as a strategy towards addressing youth unemployment, provide livelihood opportunities and address youth related social issues and problems.” Addressing the issue of aging, Mr. Toru Yamamoto, Head, Office of Consumers’ Cooperative Societies, Community Welfare and Services Division, Social Welfare and War Victims' Relief Bureau, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare said, “In Japan, the rebuilding of community-based mutual assistance is becoming a challenge. Therefore, we strive to nurture human ties once again in a local community, the foundation of people’s lives. The goal is to realize ‘regional cohesive societies’ that is a generous society, where people respect and embrace diversity. At our Consumer Co-operatives, residents organize themselves to resolve challenges in their communities; make a financial contribution to form a cooperative and operate their own businesses that are necessary.”


Competing in the Market

That co-operatives are integral to and a part of the market, and need to actively contribute to national economies was stressed. Hon. Dato Henry Sum Agong Malaysia, Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism said, “Malaysia’s National Co-operative Policy (NCP 2011 – 2020) is meant to transform the co-operative sector into an important sector in the development of the nation. The involvement of co-operatives in high value economic areas can increase economies of scale and ultimately provide a leap to the development of co-operatives in the country and thereby achieve the targeted turnover of RM50 billion (USD11.28 billion) by 2020. Dr. Vinaroj Supsongsuk, Director General of the Cooperative Promotion Department, Thailand said, “In line with the philosophy of Sufficiency Economy, high growth is not the main focus; rather, a balanced and stable development path is more important. In consideration of the role that co-operatives can take in the future, it can be said that at present, competition becomes mandatory for everybody, not only those who want to win, but also those who want just to survive. Market liberalization resulting in intense competition is putting tremendous pressure on the management practices of co-operatives, which originally were not meant to compete with others. It is unavoidable that co-operatives over the course of time become involved in such competition. Co-operatives should also focus their energy on professionalism, good governance, while keeping in the mind the goals and targets upon which the cooperatives and built.”


Linking the Producer and Consumer

Hon. Barnby Joyce MP, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources – Australia in a written statement said, “Agriculture co-operatives and other collaborative business models can help farmers to own and control more of the food supply chain themselves. Co-operatives have the potential to give farmers greater bargaining power when negotiating with buyers of their produce leading to increased returns at the farm gate. The further you reach down the path to the consumer, the greater the returns. It is better for the farmer and local communities.” The example from Bangladesh quoted by Hon. Khandker Mosharraf Hossain, Minister for Local Government, Rural Development & Cooperatives, Bangladesh was the One House One Farm project. According to the Minister, “Bangladesh presents a similar instance of co-operatives for common good. Our Prime Minister Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina launched “One House one Farm” project throughout the country that emerged as the best example of cooperative-based initiative to secure food sovereignty, poverty alleviation, and inclusive development through family farming. Since microcredit initiatives failed to take poor peasants out of the shackles of poverty, “One House one Farm Project” commits to a paradigm shift from micro-credit to micro-savings. Mr. Osamu Hashiramoto, Deputy Director General for International Affairs, Minister’s Secretariat, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery while extoling the work of Japanese agricultural co-operatives said, “the Japanese agricultural co-operatives need to show their originality and ingenuity, and to formulate marketing strategies that can respond to the voices of consumers and actual demand, not simply gathering agricultural products and introducing them into the market. In particular, they are required to place emphasis on distribution of agricultural products and supply of production materials that respond to voice of producers.”


Commit to an enabling environment

The Ministers committed to reforming co-operatives to meet current and emerging needs and creating an enabling environment. Mr. Teguh Boediayana, Special Staff representing H.E. Anak Agung Gede Ngurah Puspayoga, Minister of Cooperatives and Small & Medium Enterprises Indonesia said that President Joko Widodo administration strongly recognizes that the Indonesian co-operative should undertake fundamental reform in response to the current global trend. The Co-operative Reform Programs consists of three (3) main components: rehabilitation (improve image of co-operative), reorientation (change orientation from quantity to quality; ensure establishment of genuine co-operatives) and development or revitalization (strong business undertaking of co-operatives to be active real sector of the economy and serve the interests of their members in competitive manner).  The goal is to ensure the institution independent of co-operatives, the capability of co-operatives to provide economic benefit to their members, as well as to contribute significantly to national economy. Hon. Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Second Minister for Ministry of Communications and Information Singapore in a written statement said, “Co-operative are complementing the efforts of public and private sectors, and contributing towards meeting the evolving needs of our people. As we build a more vibrant co-operative movement, I am confident that co-operatives will continue to make significant contributions to the communities they serve. Mr. Khin Maung Aye, Chairman Central Cooperative Society Limited speaking on behalf of Hon. Aung Thu, Union Minister Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation said, “Myanmar is a classic example, where despite international sanctions for many decades and internal struggle for peace and disarmament, the Government has accorded due priority to co-operatives. The present government is fully committed to provide necessary support, encouragement and assistance to cooperatives and ensure that cooperatives work as autonomous and self-reliant institutions accountable to their members.” Hon. Rishad Bathiudeen, Minister of Industry and Commerce, Sri Lanka speaking about the new co-operative policy said, “Understanding and cooperation, between the government and, the co-operative movement will be, further strengthened, in respect of the principles and values, to safeguard the co-operative movement. We can achieve, our national SDGs easily, if the government and, the co-operative movement work together, paying attention to, relevant factors, such as gender and youth.”


Road to SDGs

At the 3rd edition of  International Summit of Cooperatives held in Quebec, Canada from October 11 to 13, 2016, cooperatives and mutuals recognized that they are in a position of influence in terms of being able to introduce sustainable development strategies and help resolve major world issues. The Declaration from the Summit commits that by 2030, the cooperative movement hopes to include:


-          2 billion members, and

-          4 million enterprises.

The Asia Pacific region recognized that it had an important role to play in ensuring that the commitment of cooperatives at the Summit can be met. However, the gravity of the task ahead was starkly stated by Dr. Martin Lowery, Executive Vice President, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, “In 13 years we want to eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere (currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day); end all forms of malnutrition; ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services…Will these just be hope or a reality where we do our part?” A similar sentiment was echoed by Dr. (HC) Ir. Burhanuddin Abdullah, Senior Advisor to DEKOPIN (The Indonesian Co-operative Council) – we have only 13 years to go but we want to create “heaven”? Should we adjust the goals to be more focused to only a few or should we double our efforts?


Action items

The Draft Hanoi Asia Pacific Co-operative Ministers' Resolution on Multi-Stakeholder Partnership in Realizing the SDGs calls on co-operatives in the Asia Pacific region to:


Pledge to achieving the SDGs and report their progress at Co-ops for 2030 ( - campaign for cooperatives to learn more about the SDGs, commit to pledges to contribute to achieving the SDGs and report their progress.    


High Level Political Forum – many countries in the Asia Pacific region have signed on to, “conduct regular and inclusive reviews of progress at the national and sub-national levels, which are country-led and country-driven.” Co-operatives will engage with stakeholders to reference work of cooperatives in helping achieve the SDGs.   


Devise instruments on care and social economy and strengthen linkages among cooperatives


Undertake evidence based research, and


Better serve the national co-operative movements in various geographical areas such as ASEAN and East Asia, Middle East and Central Asia, the Pacific Islands, and SAARC.


We are looking for comments on the draft and hope to release the final document on the International Day of Cooperatives in July.



There were over 200 registered participants and representation from 25 countries (Australia, Belgium, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand Timor Leste, UAE, USA, Vanuatu and the hosts Vietnam). Among the bilateral and multilateral organizations attending were AARDO, AFA, Agriterra, DGRV, EU, FAO, ILO, SOCODEVI, UNDP, USAID, and WeEffect).


Article By 

Mr. Balu Iyer

Regional Director, ICA-Asia and Pacific