Anti-FTA bodies join forces against US deals

Bangkok Post, 2 August 2006

TRADE LIBERALISATION EFFORTS

Anti-FTA bodies join forces against US deals

ACHARA ASHAYAGACHAT

Thailand’s anti-FTA movements have formed an alliance with counterparts in other countries including South Korea, Costa Rica and Colombia against US efforts to strike bilateral trade agreements across the globe.

Biodiversity Action Thailand (Biothai), a Thai environmental group, agreed to form a network to exchange information and experiences, and conduct analysis and joint research on the impacts and hidden agendas of the US FTA negotiations, said director Witoon Lianchamroon.

He made the comment after a three-day workshop last weekend with the leaders of social movements working against FTAs in 19 countries.

Saree Aongsomwang, director of the Foundation for Consumers, said the Thai NGOs’ stances remained unchanged: no resumption of trade talks would be allowed until political reforms were in place.

Economists and grassroots sectors should also study how His Majesty the King’s sufficiency economy philosophy could be applied to help develop the Thai economy instead of pushing ’’destructive’’ FTAs, Ms Saree said.

Maria Eugenio Trejos from Costa Rica’s NGO think-tank Pensamiento Solidario, discussed her country’s experience. ’’At first, our problem was that people were not very interested in the FTA debates. But the more we dug into research on its impacts on various fields, the more the public got involved and rose up against it,’’ she said.

With the Costa Rican government’s efforts to discredit the NGO study, Pensamiento Solidario had to work even harder to assert its arguments, said Ms Trejos.

’’Our study discovered that the treaty would pave the way for low tariffs for US exports of heavy weapons such as tanks to Costa Rica. This has created anti-US sentiment and a furore among the people,’’ she said.

Although the Costa Rican government agreed behind closed doors to sign the Central American Free Trade Agreement (Cafta), the people learned from the experiences of Mexico after it had signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) over a decade ago, and of Chile after it signed an FTA with the US three years ago, she said.

Therefore, Costa Ricans put pressure on their government until Parliament refused to approve the terms of the agreement. ’’We have had a new parliament since May and more than a dozen of the MPs pledge they will vote against the treaty but we need more than 20 votes to kick it out and we threaten that if they could not help, the effort will return to the streets again,’’ said Ms Trejos.

In Colombia, despite a higher degree of US intervention, a million people came out in the capital city. ’’Indigenous people blocked highways and the government shot the people. However, we were able to bring the FTA under the scrutiny of Parliament and there will be a vote again in October,’’ said Aurelio Suarez of the Asociacion Nacional por la Salvacion Agropecuaria (Ansa).

Recounting a similar experience to that of Thailand, Mr Suarez said Colombia had faced challenges in the forms of secrecy among state agencies and a huge number of documents.

Thanks to the Colombian law, the FTA agreement needed to be read to the lower and upper houses as well as the Constitutional Court, allowing some time for NGOs to digest the terms buried beneath many clauses, annexes and footnotes.

The second round of the US-Korean negotiations recently ended ahead of schedule because of massive protests of almost 100,000 people and a one-day strike from labour unions.

Jae Kwan Choi, from the Korean Peasants League, said farmers had learned from the previous failures of Chile and had forged an alliance with other parties including the services sector, labour unions, artists, movie stars and academics.

Repeated surveys before and after the demos found that, with 300 economists involved in the three-month-long study and public education, half of the Korean public now opposed the FTA, he added.

source: Bangkok Post