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Free trade talks : Japanese protesters cry fowl

The Nation | Bangkok | 10 November 2004

FREE-TRADE TALKS : Japanese protesters cry fowl

Farmers arrive in Bangkok to demand removal of Thai poultry from pact

Jeerawat Na Thalang

Chicken farmers from Japan have descended on Bangkok this week to lobby for the withdrawal of poultry products from free-trade talks, following the success of Japanese farmers in getting Thailand to drop rice.

Eiji Ijima, president of the Japan Chicken Association, said yesterday that his association’s campaign has received the blessing of 740,000 Japanese consumers, traders and farmers.

“If the Japanese government agrees to end tariffs on Thai chickens, it would affect us dearly,” he said during a visit to The Nation.

Ongoing negotiations that were supposed to move towards a comprehensive agreement covering all areas of trade, investment and services have become bogged down over the agricultural issue.

Japan earlier pressured the Kingdom to leave out hundreds of politically sensitive crops including rice, chicken, tapioca and sugar. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has agreed to withdraw rice to help the FTA talks make headway.

But now Japanese chicken raisers are clamouring for the same treatment for their products.

Ijima and 10 association representatives were trying to submit their demands to a working-group meeting of both sides discussing the liberalisation of trade in goods.

If the association’s demands are not heard this time, it “will continue to block the agreement”, said Takashi Shigematsu, executive director of the association.

“Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will be out of office if he lets that happen,” he added.

Japan subjects Thai chicken imports to an 11.9-per-cent duty, which is only half the rate that the European Union charges.

The chicken raisers, wearing chicken hats and T-shirts bearing a chicken logo, handed out pamphlets and tissues stamped with the protest logo to Thais passing in front of the Agriculture Ministry.

“They received the tissue and smiled at us but we don’t know what they think,” Ijima said.

Thai officials who asked not to be named said they declined to accept the group’s petition. “They never have enough. They already got rice and now they are asking for more.”

Japanese officials have this round come up with a long list of sensitive products including chicken, tapioca and sugar, the Thai officials said.

Earlier, representatives of the Board of Trade of Thailand said, following the government’s surrender on the rice issue, that if it caves in any more to Japanese demands, they would ask the government to overturn the negotiating table.

Thailand has historically been the biggest supplier of chicken meat to Japan, accounting for 200,000 tonnes out of the total 500,000 tonnes that Japan imports.

 source: The Nation