Bangkok Post | 25 May 2006
COMMERCE / FREE TRADE AGREEMENTS
Court asked to throw out FTA with Australia
FTA opponents yesterday asked the Constitution Court to annul the Thai Australian Free Trade Area agreement (Tafta) on the ground that the Thaksin government entered into it unconstitutionally two years ago.
Senators Kraisak Choonhavan and Nirand Pitakwachara along with members of the lobby group FTA Watch yesterday submitted a petition to the ombudsman to seek a Constitution Court ruling on their behalf.
The petition asked if Tafta had undermined state sovereignty, whether the government violated article 224 of the constitution by entering into it without consulting parliament first, and whether Tafta should be declared null and void if that was the case.
Buntoon Srethasirote, of FTA Watch, argued that Tafta affected state sovereignty and entry into it required the prior approval of parliament.
First approved by cabinet in May 2004, Tafta undermined the government’s authority by freely stipulating tariff rates and quotas, he said.
It also encouraged progressive liberalisation in the services sector, obstructed the government’s control of the pace of free trade, and replaced the judicial system with an arbitrary system, he added.
’’The government has always claimed the Tafta agreement does not require parliamentary consent since there is no law being amended accordingly, but this is not correct,’’ Mr Buntoon said.
The Chuan government in 1998 sought a ruling on whether signing the 1992 Convention of Biological Diversity would affect state sovereignty because the Foreign Ministry and the Office of the Juridical Council had different interpretations.
The Bio-Diversity Convention stipulated that signatories were required to help other parties gain easier access to their biological resources and without restricted benefit sharing — equivalent to changing the jurisdiction of the state in exploiting its own biological resources, the Constitution Court said that year. The Thaksin government sought parliamentary consent years later before signing the bio-diversity pact, Mr Buntoon said.
’’We would like to ask the caretaker government to avoid adding further trouble to the economy by accelerating the signing with Japan or negotiations with any other countries,’’ he said.
Jacquechai Chomthongdi, also a member of FTA Watch, said the caretaker government’s recent claim that signing the FTA agreement with Japan would help improve the trade deficit with Tokyo was not true.
’’A Chamber of Commerce University study revealed that once the FTA is signed with Japan, Thai exports will increase 0.5% while imports will increase 4.9 %, meaning an even bigger deficit,’’ Mr Jacquechai said.
’’The caretaker government had no legitimacy to pursue any negotiations. Even the new government needs to reassert its transparency and allow public participation in the process,’’ he said.