Thai dairy farmers make U-turn on FTA plan

Bangkok Post | 28 September 2004

Dairy farmers make U-turn on FTA plan

Seek financial help from Australia, NZ

ACHARA ASHAYAGACHAT

Key dairy farmers are making a U-turn in their FTA strategy and are now seeking financial, technical and marketing assistance from the big players Australia and New Zealand.

Adul Vangtal, president of the Thai Holstein Friesien Association, said representatives of the diary sector were having talks with the Commerce Ministry’s Department of Trade Negotiations about a cooperation proposal to be submitted to Australia and New Zealand.

After failing to take dairy products out of the Thailand-Australia Free Trade Area (TAFTA) and as the forthcoming FTA with New Zealand is following suit, it was better to take the second best strategy - cooperating with them, Mr Adul said.

He expected to come up with a proposal in time for this week’s visit to Thailand by New Zealand Minister for Trade Negotiations and Agriculture Jim Sutton.

Thai dairy farmers would seek financial support from the government and Australia to set up an exit fund for non-competitive farmers, technological collaboration including embryo transfer and cloning, and marketing cooperation as well as support on database and production, said Mr Adul, previously a staunch opponent of TAFTA.

A similar proposal would be forwarded to Australia later, he said.

Meanwhile, Jacques-chai Chomthongdi, an action researcher at Focus of the Global South, said it was likely Australia’s parliament would not be able to endorse the John Howard government’s FTA agreement with Thailand in time for the scheduled implementation on Jan 1 next year.

David Garner, adviser to Stephen Conrad, the shadow trade minister of Australia’s Labor party, recently told Mr Jacques-chai that Thailand should not expect more flexible quarantine and hygiene standards on Thai farm products, no matter which party formed the new Australian government.

The Labor party’s stance was to seek even faster liberalisation from Australian trading partners including Thailand.

However, TAFTA was not urgent compared to the FTA with the United States.

So when the new parliament convened in December the scrutiny would not be on Thailand, resulting in delayed implementation of TAFTA, according to Mr Garner.

Damien Lawson, adviser to Senator Kerry Nettle of the Australian Green party, told Mr Jacques-chai that his party would raise the issue of non-transparency and conflict of interests involving the conclusion of TAFTA without proper people’s participation and parliament endorsement.

The Green party was considering inviting affected Thai farmers to discuss the impact of TAFTA and possible cooperation, Mr Jacques-chai said.

The Labor and Green parties are expected to gain more seats in the Oct 9 general election.

source: Bangkok Post