Bangkok Post, 6 April 2005
TRADETALKS / CONCERNS OVER PACTS WITH JAPAN AND US
1,200 march to urge dropping of intellectual property from US deal
Pattaya - More than 1,200 farmers, slum dwellers and HIV/Aids patients from 30 civic groups staged a six-kilometre walkathon yesterday from a temple in Jomthien to the Royal Cliff Beach Hotel to drive home their demand that intellectual property rights (IPR) be removed from free trade talks with the United States.
They were disappointed as the Thai negotiators, led by former ambassador to the US Nitya Pibulsonggram, could not meet their demand. Even getting through to the venue of the third round of free trade area (FTA) negotiations almost resulted in violence until 15 representatives were allowed to voice their concern face-to-face for the first time with the Thai officials.
Kamol Upakeow, an Aids patient, said the 15-year protection for drug production was already long enough, but the US was still asking for five more years. As well, he said, drug production formulas, which were public information pending approval of the Food and Drug Administration, should not become exclusive data under new requirements requested by the US.
"Why were financial services taken off the table but the IPR issue concerning life and death of the people remains?" asked Mr Kamol.
Apiradee Tantraporn, head of the Trade Negotiations Department, said that only copyrights and trademarks were tabled while patents involving grains, drugs and organic material had yet to be discussed, including the controversial data exclusivity.
However, he said the Thai side would bring up public concerns in discussions with the US side. IPR is a major topic scheduled for talks from today until Friday.
Mr Nitya calmed worries about expensive drugs, assuring the protesters that after the FTA took effect, drugs should be even cheaper and Thailand would have more access to certain drugs.
"Don’t be too panicky or overreact to the result of the talks. We realise well that life is not for sale. And if [the pact] affects the people, we won’t sign it. Even if we have signed the agreement, we can always amend or cancel it. No one can force us. There’s a long way to go," Mr Nitya said.
But Witoon Lienjamroon of Biodiversity Action Thailand (Biothai) dismissed Mr Nitya’s comments, saying that it was not an overreaction as the groups had been contacting all concerned agencies but no one cared. Besides, the harsh impacts from the FTA with China and Australia were still fresh in the memories of fruit and vegetable farmers, as well as dairy farmers.
"You, honest bureaucrats, should answer to the public if the liberalisation of farm products has benefited only a handful of animal-feed investors who get cheaper soybean and corn while millions of farmers were to go bankrupt. How can we protect our food security?" he said.
Another activist, Pratin Wekavagayanond from the Four Slum Network, requested that public utilities such as water and electricity should not be concessioned to foreign operators since the utilities charges would be even more expensive.