Bangkok Post | 21 February 2007
Govt orders more FTA talks
No deal with Japan if hurdles not cleared
PIYAPORN WONGRUANG ANUCHA CHAROENPO
The cabinet yesterday instructed officials negotiating the Thai-Japanese Free Trade Agreement not to sign any deal without further talks with Tokyo to clear the air on issues like toxic waste imports and the patenting of micro-organisms. The resolution came after academics and some members of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) cautioned that the pact, if inked in its present form, would not only pave the way for the import of Japanese toxic waste to Thailand, but also allow the patenting of micro-organisms, commonly used by Thai farmers and pharmacists.
Foreign Ministry’s deputy permanent-secretary Pisan Manawapat, head of the Thai team, said yesterday that the cabinet had already given the green light to the ministry to inform Tokyo that Bangkok ’’will only sign the pact after the two countries’ negotiators have resolved concerns over waste imports and the patenting of micro-organisms’’.
Mr Pisan said the Thai negotiators would try their best to make Japan understand our concerns, but admitted that it would not be easy to convince Japan to revise the text.
’’We hope to see a positive response from Japan as we believe that they too want the pact being put into force to win public consensus,’’ he said.
The cabinet has ordered the team to only submit the pact for final approval after solutions to the two controversial issues have been found. Mr Pisan expects the two countries to be able to clear all the hurdles and sign the FTA deal by the end of April.
Surichai Wungaeo, a member of the NLA’s public participation panel, hailed the government’s decision to hold further negotiations with Tokyo, saying that the move reflects that they had indeed heeded the civil sector’s concerns. But he urged the government to be transparent every step of the way by keeping the public informed of the progress of the talks.
’’What matters is not the outcome, but the process. Since the trade pact carries a lot of risks, the issues should not be handled only by one particular sector,’’ said Mr Surichai, a political scientist from Chulalongkorn University.
However, Buntoon Srethasirote, of the National Human Rights Commission’s sub-panel on intellectual property rights, insisted that the government should suspend the pact signing process and revise the whole text of the Thai-Japan FTA.
’’Toxic waste imports and the patenting of micro-organisms may have been the only two concerns raised by the NHRC and the academics, but we believe that there are many more issues hidden in the pact that could place Thailand’s other important natural resources in Japanese hands,’’ said Mr Buntoon.
’’Reaching mutual understandings on the two issues is certainly not enough. The whole pact must be reviewed,’’ he said.
Commerce Minister Krirkkrai Jirapaet last week told the NLA that the FTA with Japan would bring more good than harm to the country.
The Thai economy still relies heavily on Japanese trade and investment, and being a friend of Japan would certainly help its trade and economy improve, he said, adding that once the pact takes effect, over 80% of Japanese tariffs on Thai imports would be lowered to 0%.