125/356 Moo 3
June 15, 2006
Re: Japanese government’s position in signing the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement (JTEPA) with the Thai caretaker government
His Excellency Prime Minister Juichiro Koisumi
The Prime Minister of Japan
The Royal Thai Government and the Japanese Government concluded a Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement (JTEPA) in March of this year. April 3 was the date set for the signing of the Agreement. On February 24, however, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand dissolved parliament. This means that the current Thai government has become an acting or caretaker government and, therefore, has no mandate to sign any binding agreements with any countries.
Recently, several interviews given to the press by acting Ministers, namely Somkid Jatusripitak, Acting Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce (June 1, 2006) and Suwit Mesinsee, Acting Deputy Minister of Commerce (February 27, 2006) claimed that the Japanese government was ready to sign the Agreement and was urging the current Thai caretaker government to do so.
FTA Watch, a coalition of Thai civil society groups, has been conducting studies and monitoring the Thai government’s policies and procedures on bilateral free trade negotiations since 2003. Before the original signing date, we wrote to the Royal Thai Government requesting a copy of the full text of the Agreement in order to study its potential impact, but our request met with refusal. Throughout the negotiation process, only certain sectors of Thai society received some parts of the negotiation text. The public has never been informed of the detailed negotiation topics and has been prevented from participating in the process. This was one of the reasons why the Thaksin Shinawatra Government’s transparency and commitment to good governance was questioned.
Moreover, FTA Watch, in conjunction with a group of caretaker Senators and academics, has petitioned the Office of the Ombudsman of Thailand to consider an appeal to the Constitutional Court to deliberate as to whether the Thailand-Australia Free Trade Agreement is in violation of Section 224 of the 1997 Constitution of The Kingdom of Thailand. The Japan-Thailand Agreement that your Government is keen on signing falls into the same category of bilateral agreements and so may also be in violation of the Constitution. This is due to the fact that the agreement has not been submitted for approval by the Parliament even though it involves a change in the jurisdiction of the state as stipulated in Section 224 of the Constitution.
Equally important is the fact that the Government’s conduct in negotiating trade agreements was one of the key issues that eroded many people’s trust in Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, resulting in public calls for him to step down from his position. These calls finally led the Prime Minister to dissolve Parliament. The political turmoil that ensued continues and has led to a great deal of internal division and conflict.
Japan has long been a close ally of Thailand and the two countries have always enjoyed good relations. Closer cooperation is no doubt a shared aspiration of the peoples of both countries. The concluded economic cooperation negotiations, however, were based solely on the policies of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his team and their lack of legitimacy has caused the internal divisions mentioned above. The Japanese Government’s intention to seal the agreement with the caretaker government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra could be construed as a gesture of support by the government of Japan to one of the conflicting parties. This would be improper, as it would provide legitimacy to a caretaker administration, whose duty is merely to maintain order until the next general election.
We truly hope that the Japanese Government understands this situation and thereby will refrain from any activity that can be construed as interference in Thailand’s domestic political affairs.
Consequently, FTA Watch would like to call upon the Japanese Government to explain its position clearly to the international community and to reassure the Thai people that it will not take advantage of their situation by signing the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement with the Thai caretaker Government, but will instead await the election of a legitimate government that will review the agreement in terms of its potential impact, with genuine participation of the people, even though this may lead to amendments to ensure genuine benefits on both sides.
Thank you very much for your consideration.
Asst. Prof. Sumlee Jaidee