The man’s now asking for the impossible

Bangkok Post

COMMENTARY

The man’s now asking for the impossible

Sanitsuda Ekachai

12 January 2006

If a bilateral free trade agreement with the United States is so great for us consumers, why is the telecom industry, which is controlled by our premier’s family, excluded from the deal? If Thailand had to join hands with other developing countries to fight for our people’s access to affordable life-saving medicines until the World Trade Organisation finally allowed it under the Doha Declaration, why is it that Mr Thaksin is so eager to ink a trade deal with the US that would tie our hands from doing so?

’’Don’t worry. Trust me.’’ That’s all we hear from Mr Thaksin. He is asking for the impossible, though. For trust is now the last thing he can ask from the people.

Mr Thaksin also promised that he would do his best to protect the interests of the nation. Now that raises the question of what he defines as his nation.

Millions of small farmers went bankrupt when Mr Thaksin allowed China to freely export agricultural produce into the country under the Thai-China FTA. Are these poor farmers part of Mr Thaksin’s nation or interests?

We cannot blame him for trying to talk nationalism since it has been a handy tool for him to smoke-screen his failure to contain the southern violence. But by exchanging the well-being of the majority poor for the wealth of big business, Mr Thaksin’s real self emerges.

As a transnational businessman, he may say to his heart’s content that we need nationalism to spur our national growth engine. But the fact remains that in the era of economic globalisation where national barriers are not allowed to stand in the way of business revenue, one’s national interests are often secondary to corporate profits.

Instead of letting Mr Thaksin ramble on with his nationalism nonsense, we must look at who are the winners and losers in the FTA game.

The winners? The telecom industry for sure. Also the giants in the auto, agro and textile industries.

The losers? Small-scale farmers who happen to be the majority of the Thai people. The sick and the poor.

Small entrepreneurs who cannot compete with foreign money and technology. And old money in the local banking business, which is part of the old power regime.

The authorities insist that we consumers will benefit from cheaper products. After all, aren’t we happy to buy cheaper garlic, apples and carrots now?

That’s how stupid and greedy they think we are.

Well, if Mr Thaksin thinks that the parliamentarians are so ignorant that it is no use to send the FTA details to parliament for approval, why expect him to think better of us who were gullible enough to vote him in?

If the Chinese deal is bad, the US one will be disastrous. Apart from farm bankruptcy which will undermine our food security, it will allow US investors to take control of our public utilities, public health and infrastructure, as well as the financial and service sectors.

Those who are now secretively exchanging our national self-reliance with corporate profits without letting the public know what will affect their lives, have no right whatsoever to talk about nationalism.

Mr Thaksin, however, insists trade negotiation is a matter of trade-offs. But do you want to trade cheaper GMO soybean from the US with expensive medicines when you or your relatives’ lives are at stake?

Access to affordable medicine is a serious concern for people with HIV and Aids because it has saved nearly 80% of the patients from death. Robbing them of affordable medicine then is tantamount to murder. But access to generic medicines is also our problem. According to consumer protection groups, we will have to pay 50 to 300% more for medicines if the Thai-US FTA sails through.

In the face of angry protests, the government has promised to heed public concern. Unless the FTA contents are put up for public debate, however, such a promise is but a lie.

Sanitsuda Ekachai is Assistant Editor, Bangkok Post.

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