Thailand: Debate, poll on FTA demanded

Bangkok Post, 2 April 2005

Debate, poll on FTA demanded

More public input needed, say senators

SUPAWADEE SUSANPOOLTHONG

Two Senate committees are pushing for a general parliamentary debate and a public referendum on the proposed formation of a Thai-US free trade area (FTA).

The request was made by the Senate foreign affairs committee and the Senate social development and human security committee in a March 30 letter to the parliament president.

The third round of Thai-US FTA talks will be held on April 4-8 in Pattaya.

Nakhon Ratchasima Senator Kraisak Choonhavan, chairman of the Senate foreign affairs committee, and Ubon Ratchathani Senator Dr Niran Pitakwatchara, chairman of the Senate social development panel, said the panels demanded a general debate on the Thai-US FTA under article 213 of the charter.

They also wanted a joint House-Senate committee to pursue the matter, and a referendum under article 214 to let people decide if Thailand should sign an FTA agreement with the United States.

The panels had studied guidelines for the talks and FTA agreements between the US and other countries, and feared impacts from the Thai-US FTA pact could be extensive.

The agreement was likely to affect people from all walks of life, farming, investment, intellectual property, environment and national sovereignty.

The panels, civic groups, and academics who attended a recent Thai-US FTA seminar agreed to propose removal from the talks of strict intellectual property protection proposals.

These were stricter than the World Trade Organisation’s Trips Agreement and ran counter to the Doha Declaration.

They also demanded disclosure of results of the talks.

The US intellectual property protection proposals concerning protection of patents on all kinds of living things, extension of patent validity periods, and data exclusivity ran contrary to the principles of free trade and would raise the prices of plant and animal breeds and affect public access to medicine, they said.

They called for the forming of a joint parliamentary committee representing MPs, senators, academics and the public to advise the government on FTA talks between Thailand and other countries after the third round of the Thai-US FTA talks.

The groups also demanded a general debate and a public referendum on the Thai-US FTA as well as more public participation.

Mr Kraisak said the Thai-US FTA would allow business monopolies by transnational investors, and put Thailand at a disadvantage.

Contract partners of the US must amend related laws to bring them into line with US laws.

The senator urged a parliamentary ruling on whether Thailand should sign the FTA agreement with the US since that would require amendments to several laws including the medicine patent law.

’’The Thai-US FTA would grant special privileges to certain groups. Farmers would be hit hard, but the banking and financial sectors will get an exemption.’’

The decision to try to forge an FTA was announced in October 2003 during the Apec summit in Bangkok. President George W. Bush told the Congress, some of whose members spoke in favour of an FTA with Thailand.

In a letter to Congress seeking approval to start negotiating an FTA with Thailand, US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said the FTA would foster economic growth. The Thailand Development Research Institute said the FTA should boost Thailand’s exports to the US by 3.4% and imports by 4.7% while adding 1.34% to gross domestic product growth.

source: Bangkok Post