Bangkok Post, 26 April 2006
Watchdog demands delay to talks
A local trade watchdog yesterday called for constitutional changes to bilateral trade dealings when political reform is carried out to allow public participation and to prevent potential long-term negative consequences for the people.
The group has called for the caretaker or next government to put on hold any plans for further negotiations of a pact with the US and to sign another deal with Japan, and to provide the public access to the conditions of the agreements.
It alleges such deals only serve the interests of businesses linked to politicians while putting farmers and consumers at an enormous disadvantage.
FTA Watch, a civic group campaigning against free trade pacts, demanded an amendment to article 224 of the constitution to clearly state that any bilateral trade deals be subject to parliament’s endorsement without conditions.
Kingkorn Narintarakul of FTA Watch said the previous Thaksin Shinawatra administration had exploited a loophole in this article stipulating that approval from parliament is only needed if there are changes to the state’s power.
She said the previous government argued there were no changes to state power to bypass the approval process. The agreement to be further negotiated with the US will deprive Thailand of control over the arbitration process because it requires an international court ruling, she said.
She also demanded that a referendum be held on any free trade agreement negotiations and that detailed information be presented to the public.
’’There must be legislation to state which conditions are subject to a referendum,’’ said Ms Kingkorn. ’’Article 214 of the charter requires a referendum be held on important public policy, but to date no related law has been issued.’’
The group also proposed that any law involving international trade should be subject to constitutional checks. The law should also stipulate involvement of people affected by the free trade pacts.
FTA Watch also proposed that the constitution should contain no provisions that allow the government to promote free trade systems in such a way that put economic benefits ahead of people’s quality of life and basic welfare.
Witoon Lianchamroon, the group’s co-ordinator, said the deal with the US would only benefit a group of big business owners linked to the government.
’’Thai farmers will be the first group affected by the Thai-US pact which will lower import taxes on certain agricultural products,’’ he said. ’’In the end, millions of farmers will lose their markets to these imported products and eventually lose their livelihoods.’’
Ms Kingkorn added that the agreement to be signed with Japan will affect Thai people’s access to healthcare because it will allow Japanese people to come to Thailand for healthcare services.
’’This means private healthcare services will grow drastically, taking away more medical professionals from the public sector,’’ she said.
Ms Kingkorn slammed the government for always citing advantages but avoiding mentioning any disadvantages of the deals.