Bangkok Post, 8 February 2006
FREE TRADE THAI-US NEGOTIATIONS
Draft amendment to patent law a ’sell-out’
Opponents of a free trade area (FTA) agreement with the US have lashed out at the government’s proposed amendment of Thai patent law to facilitate the United States’ patenting of drugs and living organisms in Thailand. They fear it would lead to greater control of the country’s resources by American firms.
The public must closely monitor the move to prevent an abrupt enforcement of the amended patent law in a similar fashion to the government’s alteration of the foreign shareholding law to raise the foreign limit in Thai telecom firms from 25% to 49%. This paved the way for the historic sell-off of Shin Corp to Singapore’s Temasek Holdings, the activists said.
Buntoon Srethasirote, a member of FTA Watch, a civic group monitoring the Thai-US FTA agreement, said the Commerce Ministry had already proposed an amendment to the 1989 Patent Act as demanded by the US.
The draft amendment, which includes an alteration to Article 9 of the law to allow patents on plants and animals, was now awaiting cabinet approval and parliamentary endorsement, he said.
He rejected the government’s assertion that the revised patent system would benefit Thai inventors.
’’It has been proven that the patent law has little benefit for Thai people.
’’For example, in the first 10 years after the [original] law took effect in 1989, only 32 Thai citizens patented their creations, compared to 2,412 foreigners,’’ he said.
The legal amendment was part of US proposals on the protection of intellectual property (IP) rights, which would be included in the Thai-US FTA pact.
The group said US demands for IP rights protection in Thailand were much more ’’extreme’’ than the requirements Washington set for its other FTA partners such as Jordan, Morocco, Singapore, Australia and Chile.
Jiraporn Limpananont, of Chulalongkorn University’s Social Pharmacy Research Unit, said the US proposal tabled for the Thai negotiators was ’’the most greedy and exploitative demand Washington has ever made to a country it calls a ’close ally’.’’
Moreover, only two out of the 12 demands complied with the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.
If the government submitted to Washington’s demands, the public services system, including the 30-baht health care scheme, would completely collapse, Ms Jiraporn said.
The US has demanded Thailand allow it to patent not only drugs but also diagnostic, therapeutic and surgical procedures for the treatment of humans or animals, which would inevitably force Thais to shoulder high medical treatment costs, the pharmacy lecturer said.
The US has also called for a three- to 10-year extension of the patent protection on drugs and agricultural chemical products.
The seventh round of Thai-US FTA negotiations will resume later this month in Hawaii and several civic groups are demanding the government disclose the US proposals prior to the talks.
The Thai team in Hawaii will have a new chief negotiator, commerce permanent secretary Karun Kittisataporn, government spokesman Surapong Suebwonglee announced yesterday. He replaces Nitya Pibulsonggram who resigned after protesters labelled him a ’’US stooge’’ and burnt his effigy during the last round of talks in Chiang Mai in January.
Mr Karun, a veteran civil servant with a masters degree in international economics from Syracuse University in the US, led successful FTA negotiations with Australia and New Zealand last year.