Activists warn of EU FTA dangers

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The Nation | September 19, 2013

Activists warn of EU FTA dangers

PETCHANET PRATRUANGKRAI,
PONGPHON SARNSAMAK

WHILE THAI authorities trumpeted the progress of the second round of negotiations for a free-trade agreement with the European Union, activists were harsh in their opposition, particularly on the opening up of the pharmaceutical and agricultural sectors.

"The first and second rounds have led to a better understanding of each side’s demands. The third round of talks should delve into details," Olarn Chaipravat, president of the Thailand Trade Representative office and head of the negotiation team, said yesterday.

The third round of negotiations on the Thai-European FTA is scheduled for December in Brussels.

Olarn chaired the second round of talks in Chiang Mai with Joao Aguiar Machado, deputy director-general for trade of the European Commission. Olarn was confident of reaching a final agreement by the target of one and a half years.

The current round began on Monday and will end tomorrow.

At Tha Phae Gate, the heart of Chiang Mai, about 2,000 protesters representing 28 civic groups gathered to voice their concerns. Hundreds of hand-made banners saying "No TRIPS+: Stop Stealing Seed and Medicines" have been displayed around the protest area.

Representing FTA Watch and its allies, the protesters said the agreement would increase the country’s expenditures on medicines and agricultural seeds by Bt80 billion to Bt140 billion per year. They fear that European companies, particularly pharmaceutical makers and seed producers, will monopolise Thai industries.

They also handed a petition to the EU chief negotiator, addressing their concerns on four important issues.

The first concern is the EU’s requirement to increase the level of intellectual-property protection beyond the World Trade Organisation’s requirements, which activists say would keep the prices of protected medicines at a high level, reduce competition among generic-drug makers and reduce public access to rare medicines.

Second is the EU’s demand that Thailand ratify the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV Treaty 1991) and the Budapest Treaty, which could facilitate the monopolisation of plant varieties and undermine the capacity of small-scale farmers to safeguard their food security.

Third is the protection for transnational investors in the dispute-resolution mechanism, which would limit Thailand’s power in establishing its own policies on public health, consumer protection and environmental protection.

Fourth, the activists want the EU to exclude the sale of harmful goods such as alcoholic drinks and cigarettes in developing countries without proper controls.

Prominent health advocate Asst Prof Sumlee Jaidee, a representative of FTA Watch, said in the petition that these areas were against the cause of peace in developing countries. She urged Thailand not to accept the conditions, to avoid any impacts on the public health system and the health of people in Thai society, and guard against the likely impacts on farmers and Thailand’s food security.

Olarn said the government would heed civil groups’ concerns and would address their concerns.

He said Thailand would base its case on the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement to ensure fairness for Thailand in terms of IP protection.

The second round of negotiations will also touch on trade in merchandise and services, investment liberalisation, competition policy, governance procurement, rules of origin, trade facilitation, trade remedy measures, sanitary and phytosanitary standards, elimination of non-trade barriers, and sustainable development.

The negotiation team will continue to discuss controversial issues with the public sector, non-governmental organisations and academics so that the terms of the FTA will be clear to all involved.

source: The Nation