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US worried about slow FTA talks

Bangkok Post

US worried about slow FTA talks

14 January 2006

Bangkok (dpa) - A senior U.S. trade official on Friday expressed concern about the slow progress being made in negotiations to establish a free trade agreement (FTA) with Thailand, where more than 10,000 demonstrators gathered this week to protest the pact.

"We’ve had this negotiation ongoing now for 18 months, which is longer than almost any negotiation we’ve done to date," said U.S. Assistant Trade Representative Barbara Weisel after holding the sixth round of talks on the Thai-U.S. FTA this week.

"We have discussions with several other countries wanting FTAs which we hope to do in the next month or two and we’d like to get on with," Weisel told a press conference.

Although progress was made this week in talks on agriculture, customs and services, a major sticking point remains intellectual property rights protection, especially in the sensitive sector of pharmaceuticals.

The closed-doors Thai-U.S. FTA talks held in Chiang Mai, 560 kilometres north of Bangkok, this week were marred by mass protests of Thais worried that the pact would have a negative impact on Thailand’s agricultural sector and raise the cost of health care.

On Tuesday protesters from a network of people living with HIV/AIDS stormed the negotiations venue in an effort to stop progress in the FTA which they fear will end up raising the cost of the generic anti-viral drugs keeping many HIV/AIDS sufferers alive.

There are some 560,000 HIV-positive people in Thailand, most of whom cannot afford anti-viral drugs unless they are subsidized by the government.

Other protesters have criticized the Thai government for failing to disclose the details of the FTA, as the U.S. side has done with Congress.

Thailand’s chief negotiator Nitya Pibulsonggram noted that the deal has yet to be signed and there was still plenty of time to disclosed the fine print before the FTA is signed.