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Thai-US FTA: Kraisak turns up heat on Thaksin

The Nation, Bangkok

THAI-US FTA: Kraisak turns up heat on Thaksin

By Jeerawat Na Thalang, Wichit Chaitrong

7 January 2006

Senator slams PM for avoiding parliamentary scrutiny on deal, calls for his ouster.

Opposition to a proposed Thai-US free-trade pact is threatening to escalate into a political time bomb, as a senator yesterday moved to challenge the deal’s constitutional legitimacy and called for Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to step down.

At the same time, a major rally is being planned to protest the US-Thai free-trade agreement (FTA) talks in Chiang Mai next week.

Participants at a seminar took turns to condemn Thaksin, accusing him of pushing through “an unfair arrangement” to hasten “Thaksinomics” policies.

Lawmakers blasted the premier’s lack of transparency, for bypassing the Senate and Parliament as he tries to push through a deal with the United States.

At the Thai-US FTA seminar, Kraisak Choonhavan - chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs - pointed out that any deal with foreign governments must have the approval and ratification of the upper and lower houses.

He said the senate panel was drafting a petition to the Constitution Court to renounce the country’s FTAs as unconstitutional.

“The FTAs breached Article 224 because they didn’t undergo the process of parliamentary approval. Not to mention that the FTAs should have received the blessing of His Majesty the King because they are deemed as part of international laws,” he said.

He said this was all part of questionable Thaksinomics, claiming that the PM’s reluctance to submit the deals to parliamentary scrutiny was because he feared doing so would expose further conflicts of interest.

For these reasons, he said, he was calling for Thaksin to step down.

Kraisak, who has publicly opposed the agreements, made his comments just as the sixth round of Thai-US FTA talks are to resume next week in Chiang Mai.

A number of non-government-organisations (NGOs) and farmers are planning to rally at the venue to oppose the FTA plan.

The FTA controversy comes as the first major political challenge for Thaksin this year.

The scenario is somewhat reminiscent of a recent campaign that led the Administrative Court to issue an injunction to block the privatisation of Egat Plc.

The Egat protest, led by the labour movement and democracy groups, was sparked not only by opposition to privatisation, but growing public mistrust about the Thaksin government and growing fears that only connected business groups will benefit from such schemes.

“Thaksin always said he had the mandate of millions of people. Can we now ask for our votes back? ” one angry farmer said over the microphone.

Speaking to a crowd that included farmers and businessmen, Kraisak said his committee planned to file a motion to the Constitution Court after the petition has been endorsed by all panel members.

He said Thai farmers were not ready to face open competition, citing 140,000 farming families that had been badly hit by the Thai-Chinese FTA which opened the way for a flood of Chinese farm goods.

Chief Thai FTA negotiator Nitya Pibulsonggram said at the seminar that it would take a long time before the talks can be concluded as they cover a wide range of topics. He sought to reassure that the government would not sign any agreement unless Thailand gets the best possible deal.

“I can say that we won’t be able to wrap up the agreement by the ninth round of talks,” he said.

However, a number of NGOs have expressed fears about the Thai-US FTA as they have seen negative effects from such deals in places such as Mexico, where local corn farmers were seriously affected by the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta).

Several groups of farmers yesterday said they planned to rally in Chiang Mai to protest the proposed FTA. They fear the deal will place Thailand in the hands of American investors.

Veerachai Vongboonsin, of the Board of Trade, said: “I think the agreement should bring about a good impact on trade. But I can’t say it will also bring the same result for society.”

He said that if the government really wants to strike a deal, it should do so quickly. “The longer it takes to forge it, the weaker the deal will become,” he added.