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Powerful NGO wants open talks

The Nation, Bangkok, January 24, 2006

Powerful NGO wants open talks

Pennapa Hongthong

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) yesterday asked the government to suspend talks on a free-trade agreement with the United States and to disclose what is being negotiated. The commission set up a working group of academics to monitor the negotiations in the hope of making the issues more transparent and to study the potential impacts of a trade deal.

At a press conference yesterday, NHRC chairman Saneh Chamarik voiced concerns the Thai-US FTA would have a tremendous impact on the Kingdom’s sovereignty.

“It seems the US wants Thailand to follow its domestic laws,” he said.

The human rights commission demanded the government retract the “gentleman’s agreement” not to disclose details of the US proposals, which former Thai chief negotiator Nitya Pibulsonggram said he reached with US negotiators in the first round of talks 18 months ago.

Saneh conceded the commission was bound by a strict legal framework and might not have enough power to convince the government to comply with its request.

“If the media and the public move together with us, we can pressure the government, I’m sure,” he said.

Academics on the commission’s FTA working group, chaired by Saneh, also voiced their concerns.

Lawan Thanadsillapakul, director of Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University’s Institute of Economic and Business Law, said the FTA would not boost Thailand’s economy as the government claimed. Most of the income generated from investment in Thailand would go to American businessmen since the FTA would allow foreign investors to hold 100 per cent of the shares in any business, she said.

“It’s true that it might look good for the tourism industry overall, but look carefully where the money goes, since American investors will be sole owners of hotels, spas and transportation. Only a small piece of the cake will be left for Thai workers,” she said.

Somboon Siriprachai, an economist at Thammasat University, said the FTA with the US would have wider-ranging and longer-lasting impacts on Thailand than the free-trade agreements signed with other countries, including Australia and New Zealand.

 source: The Nation