[Ip-health] EU trade talks offer poor deal

Jockey jockey.kit at gmail.com
Thu Feb 28 15:55:24 PST 2013


EU trade talks offer poor deal

Should we trade poor people's lives with trade benefits for agro-industry
corporations? This question has been posed by civic groups to the Yingluck
Shinawatra government concerning the free-trade agreement negotiations
between Thailand and the European Union. It is not the only question that
needs to be answered, however.

The first round of the Thai-EU FTA negotiations will start next week in
Belgium. Yet the public still knows little about how seriously this
comprehensive trade package will affect the prices of medicines, seeds and
other farm products now under the monopoly of pharma and agro industries.

The trade deal also poses a problematic issue for Thailand's sovereign
rights if the government can be sued for issuing public interest laws that
are perceived by big business to hurt their profits.

Public health groups have also expressed concerns that cheaper alcohol and
cigarettes as a result of the Thai-EU FTA will aggravate drinking and
smoking problems and put pressure on the public health system.

These concerns need to be addressed. People have the right to know about
what will affect their lives and what measures the government will take to
mitigate the risks. The government, however, is being secretive. It refused
to reveal the trade negotiation framework until the last minute when it was
hastily put forward for parliamentary approval late last month.

With the negotiations aiming to conclude within one-and-a-half years, and
with the government unresponsive to public concerns, labour and public
health civic groups, including people with HIV and Aids, took to the
streets yesterday to put their proposals to the government. More than 1,500
people attended the rally.

The government is rushing through the Thai-EU FTA talks because Thailand's
trade privileges under the Generalised System of Preferences, or GSP, will
soon expire. While the extension of GSP privileges will benefit
agro-industry giants and maintain export figures, it comes with an
expensive price tag for people on the street.

Thailand observes multilateral trade rules and regulations set by the World
Trade Organisation, which are already very strict and comprehensive. Under
the Thai-EU bilateral deal, however, the EU is pressuring Thailand to
accept provisions that go beyond its WTO obligations, especially on
biodiversity and intellectual property rights. This means an extension of
protection for patented medicines, lack of access to clinical data on
unpatented drugs which will hamper the local pharmaceutical industry, and a
firmer grip by the agro-industry on seeds and other farm products. In sum,
it means more expensive drugs for patients and higher farming costs for

At the rally yesterday, the FTA Watch civic network laid out its proposals
in an open letter to the prime minister. Among them: No to the provisions
beyond the WTO obligations on biodiversity and intellectual property
rights; the international dispute settlement mechanisms must not prevent
the government from issuing public interest policies, especially on public
health; No to investments that hurt the environment and food security; No
to alcohol and tobacco negotiations; and the need for stakeholders to be
consulted on every round of negotiations.

Instead of brushing off these proposals, the government should be open to
policy input and use public pressure at home to negotiate for a better deal
with the EU for the common good. Failure to do so would only prove the
civic groups are right that this bilateral trade deal is designed only to
serve big business interests.

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