Bangkok Post, 10 January 2006
Thousands resist pact with US
Free trade talks are slammed as ’unfair’
Chiang Mai - Over 8,000 protesters from an alliance of 11 groups opposing the Thai-US free trade area (FTA) agreement took to the streets of this northern city yesterday to demand what they termed unfair trade negotiations be scrapped.
They handed a letter of protest to the US consulate-general in Chiang Mai as officials from the two countries began their sixth round of talks in two hotels. The meetings will end on Friday.
But Interior Minister Kongsak Wantana insisted that the protest would not disrupt the negotiations.
The protesters gathered in front of the US diplomatic office under the close watch of over 100 policemen. They beheaded effigies of Thai-US trade delegate chiefs, pronouncing ’’those who betray the country deserve the death penalty’’.
’’Thaksin said the country is not yet ready for telecoms liberalisation. We, as the country’s grassroots groups, would like to say that neither are we ready to buy expensive drugs caused by prolonged protection of intellectual property rights,’’ said Nimit Tienudom, director of Aids Access Foundation, as he stood in front of the US consulate-general’s office.
Vice-consul general Scot Hansen, who received the protest letter, said in Thai to the protesters that Washington fully realised their concerns and that of the Thai government and would take the letter to the US delegates for consideration.
The letter called the ongoing talks ’’illegitimate’’ because of the exclusion of public participation and failure to take into consideration Thailand’s interests. The group vowed to oppose the talks and use any means possible to end them.
The protesters lashed out at the government, saying the FTA pact would provide benefits only to some business groups, instead of protecting the interests of the majority of the people who are certain to face severe negative consequences.
But the government insisted the pact would be a win-win deal for both countries.
After the raucous demonstration at the US consulate-general, the protesters rallied for almost two hours in front of the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel, one of the venues for the bilateral meetings.
Key issues in this round of talks include intellectual property rights and patent protection. Washington has made it clear it wants its patents to be protected under the FTA for five years longer than the 20 years provided for under WTO rules.
Jade Donavanik, dean of Siam University’s Law Faculty in Bangkok, said that the negotiations would benefit only a few vested interest groups in the country, while Thailand’s grassroots majority would end up as the victims.
He said the government overestimated Thailand’s readiness to sign FTA deals.
’’The government’s leader believes that Thailand is well-prepared for the FTA. It is not true,’’ he declared. ’’The majority lack the capacity to protect themselves from dangerous and unfair trade.’’
Jiraporn Limpananond, head of the Social Pharmaceutical Research Unit at Chulalongkorn University, demanded the Thai delegates end talks on the controversial issue of intellectual property rights.
Other activists and academics expressed grave concern that the country’s liberalisation of trade and investment would open up Thailand to foreign firms, destroying the Thai people’s way of life.