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Govt seeks Europe trade pact

Bangkok Post, Thailand

Govt seeks Europe trade pact

23 November 2012

The Commerce Ministry is gearing up to negotiate the Thai-European Union Free Trade Agreement following pressure from the private sector for the pact to come into force in 2015.

Negotiations over the Thai-EU FTA are expected to begin officially in January, Pitak Udomwichaiwat, director of the Ministry’s Trade Preference Bureau, said yesterday.

He said the private sector had been hoping the Thai-EU FTA would come into effect by January 2015, when the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) privileges for Thai exports to the EU is scheduled to expire.

Mr Pitak was speaking at a forum held by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to discuss the impacts of the Thai-EU FTA yesterday. It was the first round of discussions between related parties looking into the possible effects of the free trade deal to prepare measures to mitigate any negatives.

The FDA and the National Health Commission office have been working together to conduct research into the impacts of the free trade deal on the Thai pharmaceutical industry.

The study is due to be completed by June next year. Health experts and activists have demanded the government delay the talks until the study is completed and scrutinised by all parties.

Their main concern is the so-called Trips-plus provisions in the Thai-EU FTA which, they said, would prevent Thais from gaining access to life-saving medicines at affordable prices.

The term refers to additional provisions, more stringent than the World Trade Organisation’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) agreement. They include data exclusivity, the extension of drug patent protection periods, and stricter intellectual property protection enforcement.

Mr Pitak, however, insisted that it was necessary to speed up talks with the EU over the FTA.

"The Thai-EU FTA will help save the Thai import industry after Thailand loses GSP privileges," said Mr Pitak. "It’s important to launch the Thai-EU FTA as soon as possible."

He said the FTA would benefit Thailand especially after the launch of the Asean Economic Community in 2015.

"It will attract foreign investors, who want to export goods to EU countries, to invest in Thailand," said Mr Pitak.

He added he believed the issue of data exclusivity, which might be included in the FTA, would not affect the Thai pharmaceutical industry, while related parties would need to discuss further details about the patent term extension of medicines and other products.

Public Health Minister Pradit Sintawanarong said the government would thoroughly consider both the benefits and disadvantages Thailand would see before beginning the trade talks.

The government would also find measure to mitigate the impacts on certain industries, said Dr Pradit.

"We will not launch the Thai-EU FTA without relief measures," the minister said.

Health advocate Nimit Tienudom, director of the Aids Access Foundation, said it is too soon to talk about "relief measures" as the government had yet to thoroughly discuss whether Thailand should sign the trade deal with the EU.