9 June 2004
US Trade Negotiators May Bring Up Genetically Modified Organisms Issue
By Wichit Chantanusornsiri
US trade negotiators are expected to raise the issue of Thai regulations on genetically modified organisms and domestic labour laws during bilateral free-trade talks.
Thailand currently bans the use of GMO crops, and is considering new labelling restrictions on foodstuffs using genetically modified ingredients.
Large US agribusiness companies such as Monsanto are expected to push heavily for an easing of GMO restrictions in official FTA talks with Thai authorities.
Similarly, US labour unions and non-governmental organisations are expected to press negotiators to raise questions about Thai labour practices, particularly the use of child labour.
Parnpree Bahiddha-nukara, vice minister for commerce, said that for both issues, the relevant agencies would be responsible for spearheading the negotiations, in this case the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry for GMO standards and the Labour Ministry regarding the labour law.
Of the two, GMOs are likely to be the more contentious issue. The Thai Food and Drug Administration has drafted a law requiring GMO labels if at least one of the three main ingredients of any product contains more than 5 percent genetically modified materials.
Formal talks between the US and Thailand will begin on June 28 in Hawaii.
Dr Parnpree said members of the European Free Trade Association (Efta), comprised of non-EU nations Iceland, Switzerland, Norway and Liechtenstein, were also interested in forging a free trade agreement with Thailand.
An high-level international trade policy committee has assigned Krirk-krai Jirapaet, a former commerce permanent secretary and now a vice minister for the Tourism and Sports Ministry, to lead a team to study the potential of an agreement with Efta.