Bangkok Post | 15 February 2007
NLA lobbied hard to back FTA deal with Japan
The Foreign Ministry is lobbying hard for the National Legislative Assembly’s support for a free trade area (FTA) agreement with Japan as Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram prepares to visit Tokyo at the end of this month. In preparation for the NLA debate today, Pichai Wassanasong, chairman of the NLA committee on foreign affairs, has collated information from negotiators and sounded out the views of the private sector, NGOs and academics over the past few weeks.
Former foreign minister Surin Pitsuwan, who had a special meeting with chief negotiator Pisan Manawapat, said there had been active campaigning from both supporters and opponents of the FTA.
Although the NLA could not vote for or against the trade pact, there was a sense of openness during the NLA debates, and the public could benefit from the sharing of information, Mr Surin said.
’’We have to give credit to the interim government for allowing the issue to be debated and to the NGOs’ determination to enlighten the people,’’ he said.
Somkiat Tangkitvanich, research director at the Thailand Development Research Institute, said the NGOs were exaggerating the extent of damage which could be caused by the trade pact.
There were applicable and available internal measures to deal with any adverse effects, Mr Somkiat said.
’’We can apply excise tax on [industrial] waste if we see any problem. As for the bio-piracy they fear will spread around Thailand if the agreement is signed, the Commerce Ministry can issue guidelines for micro-organism patenting procedures to prevent naturally occurring micro-organisms being patented,’’ he said.
’’After all that, we can still go to the intellectual property court in the event of a dispute.’’
The argument that the government would have less of a free-hand in capital controls was also invalid since there were temporary safeguards in the text of the agreement, said Mr Somkiat .
The only valid argument from the NGOs was about the non-transparent process of negotiations, he said. Negotiators always cited the necessity of secrecy when selective disclosure was possible.
’’There needs to be a revision of Article 224 in the 1997 constitution, that clearly defines the meaning of sovereignty affected by an international treaty or agreement that requires parliamentary endorsement,’’ he said. ’’Moreover, we need a specific international trade agreements to spell out the public hearing process and categorise what agreement requires legislative approval.’’
Paiboon Ponsuwanna, vice-chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, said at a hearing of the NLA committee on foreign affairs that the trade pact was crucial to boosting exports of Thai agricultural products to Japan.
Exports had decreased substantially in the past several years due to higher tariffs imposed on Thai farm product.
Mr Nitya will meet Japanese Foreign Minister Shinzo Abe on Feb 26 and jointly open the celebration of 120 years of diplomatic relations the following day.
He will also meet the heads of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, Keidanren, MP Yasuo Fukuda and foreign news correspondents.