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NGOs fear there’s a hidden agenda in Japan FTA

The Nation | 17 February 2007

NGOs fear there’s a hidden agenda in Japan FTA

Petchanet Pratruangkai

Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) yesterday voiced concern over a hidden agenda in the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement (JTEPA), which would have a serious social impact on the Kingdom, particularly on the issues of toxic waste and micro-organisms.

They urged the government to revise the details of the agreement, warning that Thailand would lose a chance to develop its micro-organisms and the country’s environment would also take a beating from dumping of industrial wastes.

The NGOs said Japan would benefit from Thailand’s micro-organism variety by developing them for use in many businesses and the nation’s micro-organism assets would immediately belong to Japan once their patent registrations were approved.

Khao-Kwan Foundation chairman Day-cha Siripatra said the country would lose several hundred billion baht a year if the government allowed Japan to patent micro-organisms, because Thailand relied on Effective Micro-organism (EM) imports from Japan to support many industries and solve the environment problem.

Witoon Leanchamroon, director of BioThai, an NGO working for biodiversity and community rights, said the agreement would create few economic benefits but cause big social losses.

"The government should look into any hidden agendas which they might not be aware of. For instance, allowing micro-organism patent registration by the Japanese and the waste-dumping contract," he said.

The Office of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand yesterday held a press conference to oppose the government decision to accelerate signing of the JTEPA.

The National Legislative Assembly debated the agreement on Thursday, and the National Economic and Social Advisory Council will put the results of its study on the impact of the FTA to the Cabinet next week.

The NGOs asked Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont to keep his promise to put off the agreement for three months to allow more people and academics to express their opinions on the pact.

Visut Baimai, director of the Biodiversity Research and Training Programme, said Thailand would lose an opportunity to study micro-organisms if the government inked the agreement, which would allow Japanese researchers to register a microbiology patent while Thailand would not be able to register the micro-organisms because it had no system to do so.

The free-trade pact will give Japanese researchers a chance to study the biodiversity of Thailand to the benefit of their own country, he said.

Chanuan Ratanawaraha, a former deputy director-general of the Agriculture Department, said the government had to protect the country’s natural resources and allow only Thais to study micro-organisms.

Many Thai industries rely on imported micro-organisms costing an average of Bt50 billion to B60 billion per year.

Micro-organisms are used in the food, medical and agricultural industries. Tropical Thailand has greater biodiversity than temperate Japan.

Bantoon Setthasiroj, director of project strategy on tropical resources, said the government should not sacrifice the safety of the Thai people to a few benefits for some businessmen.

"The government must delete the obligation about micro-organisms from the text," he said.

He said that Malaysia and the Philippines, which have also negotiated free-trade agreements with Japan, had not allowed the Japanese to patent micro-organisms.

Although the negotiating team said the agreement referred only to trade in intellectual property (TRIP) under the World Trade Organisation agreement, many negotiators suggested the agreement on micro-organisms be kept out of the TRIP Plus agreement.

If Japan can patent micro-organisms developed in Thailand, the Kingdom will find itself unable to access them itself, said Bantoon.

The group also urged the government to cancel the agreement on waste-dumping in Thailand.

Sukran Rojanapaiwong, a committee member of the Campaign for Alternative Industry Network, warned of the possibility that Japanese companies would dump their industrial waste in Thailand because of the agreement.

The agreement will allow the import of unrepaired used parts, used industrial goods and toxic waste.

For instance, used tyres, used lead-acid batteries and used electricity accumulators are mentioned in the pact. "Why did the Japanese list those products, when they know they are forbidden ? This could be a channels for their import," Sukran said.

She said Thailand was inefficient in managing or destroying such waste.

"We can destroy only 50 per cent of the waste in our own country. What will happen if we have to manage even more ?" she asked.

 source: The Nation