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NGOs seek to delay signing of Thai-Japanese pact

The Nation | 24 Mar 2007

NGOs seek to delay signing of Thai-Japanese pact

Petchanet Pratruangkrai

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that oppose free-trade agreements (FTAs) will file a petition with the Administrative Court on Tuesday seeking impeachment of the Foreign Affairs Ministry and government officials over their "rush" towards the signing of the Japan-Thailand Economic Cooperation Agreement (Jtepa).

The move aims to pressure the government to postpone signing for another six months. The delay would pave the way for the government to revise the agreement in detail to prevent any problems in the future, they said.

The signing is scheduled for early next month The two countries hope the agreement will boost trade and investment. Despite concerns about Japan’s policies towards micro-organisms and industrial waste, the Thai government is keen to finalise the pact.

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont is due to lead government officials to sign the agreement in Tokyo on April 3. Ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra had also planned to sign the deal.

The BioThai Foundation, the Khao-kwan Foundation, the Aids Access Foundation, the Foundation for Consumers and the Consumer Protection Board have jointly protested against Jtepa.

Witoon Lianchamroon, director of BioThai, an NGO working for biodiversity and community rights, said the agreement would have a serious impact on Thailand.

"The prime minister, the Council for National Security and the Constitution Drafting Assembly need to be responsible for the results of the agreement," said Witoon.

He added that the government’s "hidden agendas" and "conflicts of interest" over the agreement would bring problems to many people in the near future.

The NGOs will hold a public meeting at Kasetsart University tomorrow to air their concerns.

FTA Watch yesterday published a document entitled "The Inconvenient Truth of Jtepa" to increase awareness about issues that it claims the government has hidden from the public.

Witoon said the pact had many flaws. The government must delay signing if Thailand is not to lose benefits that will go to groups of businessmen and foreigners, he added.

For instance, he questioned why the government agreed to withdraw rice from the agreement and included seafood and chicken instead. Rice is a major export, whereas the shrimp, chicken and processed-food industries are owned by influential businessmen.

Other serious effects of the deal would include toxic waste flooding into the Kingdom, the loss of intellectual property rights on micro-organisms, limited protection for new varieties of plants, a negative effect on the compulsory licensing of drugs and the loss of some medical access, Witoon said.

Bantoon Setthasiroj, director of project strategy on tropical resources at FTA Watch, another NGO, said the government should not sacrifice the safety of the Thai people in order to benefit some businessmen.

By The Nation On 24 Mar 2007

 source: FTA Watch