Bangkok Post | 7 June 2006
FTA could be met with court action
Caretaker state powers brought into question
ACHARA ASHAYAGACHAT & WORANUJ MANEERUNGSEE
Citizens could file a lawsuit with the Constitutional Court if the caretaker government signs a free trade agreement with Japan, said Somchai Preechasinlapakun, dean of law at Chiang Mai University.
’’It is very possible that Thai people could seek a court order to stop the caretaker government going ahead with its action [of signing the FTA] or seek a court order to nullify the legally binding effect of the FTA,’’ Mr Somchai said yesterday.
Somkid Jatusripitak, the caretaker deputy prime minister, said yesterday that Thailand could sign the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement (JTEPA) before Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi steps down in September.
Mr Somchai said a caretaker government had no business committing the country to such a major deal.
’’This government is going to breach the Thai constitution,’’ he said. ’’It is customary for the caretaker government to focus only on day-to-day jobs. Traditionally, it would not initiate new policies or take action that would commit the country on a large scale. Although it is not wrong by law, this is quite serious matter.’’
Thailand’s chief negotiator, Pisan Manawapat, said the legal text of the agreement could be completed within the month, ready for signing.
Japanese legal experts are due to visit Bangkok in two weeks to finalise the legal text and related elements of the seven-part co-operation agreement.
’’After these talks, our negotiating panel could wind down and present all the documents to the government for its consideration of whether or when to sign the comprehensive agreement,’’said Mr Pisan, also the deputy permanent secretary for the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Last week, Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), Toshihiro Nikai and Dr Somkid agreed that the two countries should work toward signing the agreement more quickly.
Critics said the government probably wanted to move the FTA forward to boost foreign investment, which had stalled in recent months due to lingering political uncertainties.
However, civic groups, lawmakers and academics in Thailand have opposed FTAs not only with Japan, but also the United States. They have also petitioned the ombudsman to ask the Constitutional Court whether an earlier accord signed with Australia was unconstitutional.
But the private sector and the Board of Trade of Thailand support the Japan deal, saying that FTAs benefit countries in terms of cheaper imports, in particular capital goods used to add value to Thai exports.
However, the country would suffer a bigger trade deficit with Japan.
Mr Pisan said the negotiating team had sent draft agreements to the Senate and Parliament at the beginning of the month and would hold a seminar next month.
’’We have adhered to transparency and listened to opinions and comments from various groups over the past two years. We remain confident that the agreement will benefit both farm and industrial sectors and enhance the competitiveness of the country,’’ he said.
He noted that the decision to sign or delay the agreement was a political one for the government.’’I don’t want to see those who disagree with the government on other issues politicise the JTEPA and undermine the merit of the agreement,’’ he said.
However, FTA Watch, a civic group campaigning against free trade pacts, said it was planning to submit letters to Mr Koizumi, Mr Nikai, and Japanese ambassador Hideaki Kobayashi asking them not to rush into signing the agreement with an ’’illegitimate’’ Thaksin government.
Instead, FTA Watch wants Japan to wait until Thailand holds a general election so that a new government could review the merits of the trade agreement.
’’Japan has been a good friend of Thailand for a long time. We have requested the Koizumi government not to pressure the Thai people to come out on the streets again,’’ said Witoon Lianchamroon, an FTA Watch member.
’’If they (the Japanese) are still eager to clinch the planned FTA pact, they will be regarded as intervening in Thai politics. If they do so, so people will protest in front of its embassy here.’’