American Ambassador: It’s no secret

Bangkok Post - PERSPECTIVE - 12 February 2006

American Ambassador: It’s no secret

Supara Janchitfah

When the former head of the Thai negotiating team, Nitya Pibulsonggram, was asked why the Thai-US trade deals must be kept confidential, he told journalists that he was asked by the US negotiation team to initial the agreements, but that he refused to do so. He said he asked the US negotiator team to believe that he would keep the deal confidential, as a gentlemen’s agreement, and that he kept his promise until the last day that he held the position of head Thai negotiator.
Last week Perspective asked US Ambassador to Thailand Ralph Boyce some questions concerning the confidentiality of the Free Trade Agreement.

Q: Why must the detail of the negotiation be kept secret? Is this a US stipulation?

A: Frankly in any kind of diplomatic negotiation, it’s much easier to conduct a negotiation if you are not doing it on the front page all the time ... That is the fact of life in a complicated negotiation.

But at the same time, we are not going to be able, in either country, to sell an FTA so that we can complete one unless the details are ultimately not only clear but acceptable. At some point or another, everything needs to meet the test of public scrutiny. We brief industry and Congress along the way during the various rounds....We don’t issue press releases about the details of the negotiations, but we’ll sit down with industry and interested members of Congress and staff and go through a fairly good level of detail.

Q: Has the US requested that the Thai government not do that (reveal the details of the deal to the Thai Parliament)?

A: No, we have not. There are two different systems. The Thai system is a parliamentary system, as opposed to ours in which the Constitution puts authority for trade policy in the Congress, actually. So Congress passed the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), sometimes called fast track, essentially to designate that the administration may negotiate trade agreements _ free trade agreements in particular _ on the behalf of Congress. But they still need to be approved (by Congress), which means certain stipulations, guidelines, etc.

I am not familiar with the circumstance around Ambassador Nitya’s quote about the gentlemen’s agreement, but it certainly wouldn’t be a US stipulation that it be kept completely secret. We certainly haven’t been keeping it completely secret.

Q: We have information that each page of the negotiation agreement has written on it something like: ``This Document Contains Thailand Restricted Information to be treated as U.S. Confidential. Modified Handling Authorised.’’

A: I haven’t actually seen the language, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had that on there. In a negotiation, the text is constantly changing. We have what we call bracketive language that reflects differences between the two sides. Having these things to be circulated publicly is not conducive to getting those brackets removed or getting the document concluded. That seems like a perfectly defensible negotiating strategy.

Q: How can the Thai public have access to the trade deal?

A: That must be the decision of the Thai government.

The ambassador also said that he welcomes meetings with anyone who has concerns or questions about the FTA, including members of the Thai media, as well as other issues which involve the two countries.

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source: Bangkok Post