Bangkok Post | 17 April 2006
Nesac urges caution over US FTA talks
The National Economic and Social Advisory Council has urged the government to delay free trade negotiations with the US on financial services and take intellectual property rights and agriculture liberalisation off the agenda.
Its proposals on the Thai-US free trade agreement (FTA) recently sent to the cabinet called for the government to put off talks with Washington until Bangkok was better prepared.
Vorapol Socatiyanurak, the council vice-chairman, said the agency was not against a free trade agreement, but felt the Thai-US deal should only be done when the government and the country was ready.
’’The slower, the better for the Thai-US FTA. At present, even the negotiating team is not ready, in comparison to the US team which brings together experts and professional trade negotiators,’’ he said.
’’The public, businessmen and bankers are also not ready for such changes so it’s better to wait than to rush at this stage.’’
The government should not to bow to US proposals on financial services, including those concerning the banking and insurance sectors, agriculture, intellectual property rights and environment standards, he said.
Liberalisation of financial services should be delayed and the government should maintain the foreign ownership restriction on commercial banks and the insurance sector, he added.
But talks over intellectual property, particularly patent protection for pharmaceuticals and issues relating to biodiversity, should be scrapped because they would affect many people, including farmers and patients, he said.
The agency also predicted that the Thai-US FTA on the agriculture sector would result in increased poverty and wider income distribution. It would affect farmers in a similar way to FTAs with China and Australia, where farmers could not compete with cheaper farm imports.
Thailand and the US have held talks six times, the latest round in Chiang Mai in January.
The council said the government should improve the process of conducting talks on free trade agreements by consulting parliament at least six months before starting any talks.
Parliament should be allowed another six months to scrutinise the deal when the talks are complete.