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Thailand: Activists want new law to control FTA process

The Nation, Bangkok

Activists want new law to control FTA process

19 March 2004

Academics and social groups yesterday joined forces to propose that a law be passed to hold the government accountable for several FTA negotiations that they say have adversely impacted many sections of society as well as the country’s sovereignty.

"The lack of a checks-and-balances system could allow associates of the [ruling] Thai Rak Thai party, who have a vested interest, to use the FTAs for personal gain," Rangsan Thanapornphan, a prominent Thammasat University economist, told a seminar at the university organised by FTA Watch.

Rangsan, an FTA Watch adviser, said disadvantaged groups had been excluded from the free trade agreement negotiations.

The Sino-Thai FTA signed last October had opened the door to a flood of cheap Chinese agricultural imports that had left northern farmers unable to sell their produce.

FTA Watch agreed to propose a law on international trade negotiations in order to make them more transparent and ensure that the voices of all stakeholders are heard.

The group called on the government to suspend FTA talks and seek a consensus from all affected parties before proceeding.

Rangsan said the country had no precedent showing that any international agreement first needed Parliament’s approval and no government-accountability mechanism.

The FTA negotiation process needed to be reformed and negotiators needed to be equipped with more knowledge and negotiation skills, he said, adding that government demands to rush the process could weaken the country’s bargaining power.

Jaroen Khamphirapap, a Chulalongkorn University law lecturer, said that based on the Singapore-US FTA, which Thailand used as a model in negotiations, deals would require many legislative changes that could impair the sovereignty of the nation.

Article 224 of the Constitution requires any deals impacting on Thai sovereignty to get approval from two-thirds of Parliament, he said.

Many law lecturers at the seminar expressed concern over the difficulties of proposing such a bill.

Banjerd Singkhaneti, a Thammasat law lecturer, said the government held the majority in Parliament, giving little room to propose a law.

He described the current political climate as "parliamentarian dictatorship by capitalists".

Last month the Senate and the Democrat Party lodged an urgent motion on the FTA issue but the request was turned down.

Thailand is negotiating FTAs with the US, Japan, China, India, Bahrain and Peru.

Rungrawee C Pinyorat