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Trade talks: PM flouts Parliament over FTAs

The Nation, Bangkok

TRADE TALKS: PM flouts Parliament over FTAs

8 January 2006

Thaksin brushes off senators’ protests that both houses must have the last word.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday relegated the country’s parliamentary governance system to the back seat by saying that his administration did not have to seek prior parliamentary approval for free-trade agreements with foreign nations.

The premier shrugged off criticism from senators that the government had neglected Parliament in the process of negotiating and clinching free-trade agreements (FTAs) with several nations, including the United States.

“Even though the government did not inform Parliament in advance or have Parliament scrutinise these deals, we have been very discreet in negotiating and concluding the agreements,” he said.

Senator Kraisak Choonhavan said on Friday that a Senate panel was preparing a petition to the Constitution Court asking it to renounce FTAs already signed with China and Australia, among other countries.

Tomorrow the government will enter into the sixth round of FTA talks with the US in Chiang Mai in hopes of reaching a final bilateral agreement.

Thaksin said he would continue pushing for more FTAs to ensure that the economy kept up high growth rates in coming years.

However, the premier saw no need to answer specifically why his administration had not sought a prior mandate from Parliament and allowed legislators to scrutinise the trade deals.

“Whether our FTAs are prudent or not has nothing to do with the parliamentary process. It’s about the government’s preparedness for negotiation. We’ve been well prepared all along,” he said.

Surapong Jayanama, a former Thai ambassador to several countries, said earlier that Thaksin, as head of the ruling Thai Rak Thai party with 375 seats in the 500-person House of Representatives, had often displayed an anti-parliamentary tendency in managing the country’s affairs.

Kraisak said the FTAs already signed by Thaksin apparently violated Article 224 of the Constitution, which required that they be ratified by Parliament.

That means any binding agreement with foreign governments must be approved by the upper and lower houses.

Meanwhile, Thaksin said yesterday an FTA with the US was crucial if Thai exporters were to compete in the huge US market in the near future because it would ensure that Thai goods were not at a disadvantage against those from other countries that had FTAs with the US.

“Obviously there are pros and cons in any FTA, so we have to be very careful, as on the issue of drug patents [to protect our national interest]. However, the US is a huge market, so we can’t afford to lose our edge, or else our economy will suffer,” he said.