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Zoellick’s visit fails to ease Thai concerns

Bangkok Post

Zoellick’s visit fails to ease Thai concerns

By Achara Ashayagachat

5 May 2005

The US deputy secretary of state has lobbied the prime minister, the foreign minister, MPs and senators to move forward on the free trade agreement (FTA).

However, some Thai politicians are still uneasy about the US stand on intellectual property rights and farm subsidies.

Thailand was Robert Zoellick’s first stop on a week-long visit to Southeast Asia to discuss economic, security and political issues.

He wants to work with Thai politicians to ensure support for the FTA, a project he helped launch a year ago.

Mr Zoellick said the US was also worried about competition from Thailand.

However, he said, Thais should not worry about pharmaceuticals, as access to medicine, especially for HIV/Aids patients, would not be affected by free trade agreement.

’’We should consider the big picture of our relations. We would like to send a signal to people in the region as we want to move ahead with the FTA in other countries as well,’’ he said after talks with Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon.

Jon Ungphakorn, a Bangkok senator who joined a meeting with Mr Zoellick yesterday, said Mr Zoellick was not able to ease concerns about farm subsidies and drug patents.

FTA Watch said public sector groups in Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia would meet in June to support Thailand against the US push for intellectual property rights amendments beyond the World Trade Organisation commitment.

The ministers also discussed the issue of Burma, where ’’both governments obviously share some frustrations over the lack of political change,’’ Mr Zoellick said.

The US had a clear position on the issue and was disappointed that the Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest and the process of national reconciliation was stalled.

Mr Kantathi said Thailand was working on the issue.

’’Some of what we are doing is delicate and not open to the public but it does not mean we are not working hard towards democratisation and national reconciliation as well as the unity of Asean,’’ he said.