‘Secret’ FTA details on the Net

posted 8-February-2006

The Nation, Bangkok

‘Secret’ FTA details on the Net

By Pennapa Hongthong

8 February 2006

Details of US proposals in free-trade talks with Thailand - perceived by many Thais as “forbidden information” the government has tried to cover up - were recently posted for all to see in cyberspace. Witoon Leanchamroon, director of BioThai, a non-government organisation working for bio-diversity and community rights, said at a press conference yesterday he had been told a group of Americans involved in public health issues had posted a full text of the patent chapter from the Thai-US free trade talks at www.bilaterals.org.

Those who posted the text were trying to bring transparency to the free-trade agreement (FTA) talks and were concerned that the Thai-US trade pact might increase drug prices in the US, he said.

“They are afraid the Thai public might not be able to evaluate the possible impacts on their healthcare since the Thai negotiating team has declined to disclose [details of] the US proposals.”

He suspected the information might have been leaked by members of the US negotiating team who disagreed with the FTA’s drug patent proposals, believing they would have an adverse impact on the public-health system here.

As well as bringing the agreement out of the “twilight zone”, some US health groups have pressured US officials to drop demands to protect intellectual property rights of makers of pharmaceutical products from the Thai FTA, Witoon said.

Nitya Pibulsonggram, former head of the Thai negotiating team, insisted earlier that he had a “gentleman’s agreement” with the US negotiators that the text would not be disclosed until the FTA deal was finalised.

Uttama Savanayana, who was assigned by Commerce Minister Somkid Jatusripitak to play a key role in the sixth round of negotiations with the US in Chiang Mai early last month, said he could not comment on whether the disclosure of the text would affect the ongoing talks.

The key demands of the US include compensation for shortening of a patent due to unreasonable delays by the Thai Department of Intellectual Property in issuing a patent or the Food and Drug Administration in giving marketing approval; protecting the clinical testing data of original drugs; and restricting the use of compulsory licensing during national health crises.

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