[Ip-health] Public hearing 'required' before FTA talks

Kannikar Kijtiwatchakul kakablueblue at gmail.com
Wed Aug 8 22:01:58 PDT 2012

 Public hearing 'required' before FTA talks

   - Published:
04:40 PM
   - Online news: News <http://www.bangkokpost.com/business/news>


A free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union requires not only
parliamentary approval but also a public hearing before the Commerce
Ministry can negotiate the terms, FTA Watch, a civil society network,
declared on Wednesday.

FTA Watch was instrumental in stalling former prime minister Thaksin
Shinawatra's dream of FTAs with leading countries and regional blocs a
decade ago.

An open letter was to Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom on
Wednesday, FTA Watch chair Prof Sumlee Jaidee sought clarification and a
guarantee from the Yingluck Shinawatra government that it would ensure
transparency and accountability in proceeding with the trade agreement, to
prevent benefiting more vested groups rather than the public at large.

The Commerce Ministry had said it would seek parliamentary endorsement this
month for a free trade agreement framework of negotiation with the EU.

However, Article 190 of the constitution requires that the public must be
informed of the framework negotiation and a public hearing is required
alongside parliamentary debate.

So far, the ministry had not consulted with civil society at all, the open
letter said.

The alliance has also questioned the preliminary procedures the EU has
suggested as a prelude to fully fledged FTA talks.

"The public does not have any information about the mini-treaty deal,
whether there is or will be any public hearing on this step or not. Also,
whether the parliament will be consulted on this procedure or not," the
letter said.

FTA Watch coordinator Kannikar Kijtiwatchakul said civil society was
concerned that an FTA with the EU would another "TRIPs Plus", which affects
public access to medicines and knowledge concerning biotechnology resources.

The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights
(TRIPS) is the most comprehensive multilateral trade agreement dealing with
the intellectual property rights under the World Trade Organisation.

"India has not yet made an agreement with the EU on this TRIPs Plus
feature. Even the EU Council has also voted against the Anti-Counterfeiting
Trade Agreement, a similar sort of intellectual property rights protection

"The Thai government's push for an FTA with the EU to offset the side
effects of the Generalised System of Preference (GSP) cuts is short
sighted if we don’t deal with the whole issue thoroughly," said Ms Kannikar.

Trade Negotiations Department director-general Srirat Rastapana previously
said that although the two sides have held several rounds of talks over the
past two years, the scope of the agreement needs to be approved by the Thai
parliament under the provisions of Article 190 of the constitution.

She felt the timing was good since the EU was now keen to increase trade
and investment cooperation with  Asia and an FTA could help clear existing
trade barriers and raise the issue of Thai gradation from tariff privileges.

The EU countries are the second largest investors in Thailand after Japan
with investments totalling US$1.52 billion in 2010, or 15.7 per cent of
total foreign direct investment (FDI) in Thailand, according to the Bank of

The bloc is also the largest investor in Asean, with total investment of
$17 billion in 2010, or 22.4 per cent of total FDI in the region.

The EU had earlier sought negotiations for a multilateral FTA with Asean in
May 2007. But after seven rounds of talks, the two sides agreed to
suspend negotiations because the EU was not ready to embrace Myanmar. The
economic development of Asean members was also so varied that they could
not respond to the EU's requests as a group.

Since then, the EU has adjusted its strategy to holding bilateral FTA
negotiations with Asean members.

UNCTAD secretary-general Supachai Panitchpakdi has not supported bilateral
FTAs, rather he suggested that Thailand should focus on regional or
multilateral negotiations that would rather ensure the developing
countries' benefits.

Kannikar Kijtiwatchakul

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