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FTA BACKLASH: Farmers petition the King

The Nation, Bangkok

FTA BACKLASH: Farmers petition the King

July 21 2004

Ask HM to get govt to remove dairy industry from pact

A leading farming group says it has petitioned His Majesty the King to call on the government to withdraw milk and dairy products from Thailand’s free-trade agreement (FTA) with Australia.

The Thai Holstein-Friesian Association prepared the petition on behalf of dairy farmers last year when the government unveiled plans of the FTA, said Boonchauy Pulporn, an executive member of the association.

He said the petition was forwarded last month for the consideration by the King.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra went to Canberra this month to witness the signing of the FTA, which is the first comprehensive trade pact Thailand has made with another country and covers a wide range of farm products, plus industrial tariffs, investment and labour migration matters.

Although the agreement will not end tariffs on dairy products for 20 years, the Thai Holstein-Friesian Association said in the petition that local dairy farmers would be badly affected when Australian milk "floods" the Thai market.

The petition said that including the dairy industry in the agreement would spell the end of self-sufficient communities and the cooperatives system that has been in place under Royal Patronage for 40 years.

"On behalf of milk-cow raisers nationwide, we would like to submit the petition to urge the government to withdraw milk and dairy products from the agreement," the petition said.

However, Pinit Korsieporn, deputy secretary-general of the Agricultural Economics Office, said Australian milk was unlikely to flood the Thai market because of the FTA. The current tariff on Australian milk is only 5 per cent, he said, and this would be gradually phased out in 15 years.

"We should look at the big picture. In the next 20 years, countries will prefer to trade with partners with lower tariff rates. Thai fruit will also be able to enter Australia, which has one of the strictest sanitation standards in the world," he said.

Pinit said the quota of 2,200 tonnes of extra-skimmed milk powder allowed for Australian milk products would come from commitments already made to |the WTO.

Thailand is committed to allowing the import of 55,000 tonnes of skimmed milk powder under the trade liberalisation requirement.