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FTA pact’s product list under attack

Bangkok Post

FTA pact’s product list under attack

26 November 2010

The government is coming under increasing attack from activists for pushing ahead with EU-Thailand free trade agreement talks which include alcohol, tobacco and medicines.

Participants at public hearings from April to July organised by a government-appointed committee expressed concern over the social and health impact of reduced-price alcohol products imported from the European Union once the pact is signed.

But a member of the civil pressure group FTA Watch, Jacque-chai Chomthongdi, said the public input had not been forwarded to the cabinet.

The group also criticised Deputy Commerce Minister Minister Alongkorn Ponlaboot for drafting details of the negotiations which do not take into account opinions of the different parties involved.

"What the government is doing goes totally against public concerns over the impact of bilateral trade deals on the benefits of the majority of people," Mr Jacque-chai told a seminar yesterday on the proposed Thai-EU FTA.

The group vowed to boycott future hearings and to continue its protests as long as the government includes alcohol, tobacco and intellectual property rights involving medicinal products in the talks.

Visiting Indian lawyer Kajal Bhardwat said Thailand should learn from other countries’ free trade agreements that demand tougher intellectual property provisions than the international trade rules set by the World Trade Organisation. FTAs also provide companies with a long data protection period for their products so they cannot be reproduced as generic products.

Mr Bhardwat said the India-EU trade talks now in progress were seen as the latest bilateral trade pressure on developing nations, including Thailand. Their success would make it harder for Indian generic drug makers to produce new products for global distribution.

An estimated 200,000 Thais living with HIV/Aids and thousands of cancer and heart disease patients depend on drugs imported from Indian generic drug makers for free distribution under the universal health scheme.