Bangkok Post | 15 December 2006
Critics given sneak peak of free trade deal
In a bid to secure a smooth passage for a public hearing on the Thai-Japanese free trade agreement, the Foreign Ministry yesterday allowed a group of critics to gain access to the text of the controversial deal. The access to the 700-page deal by the seven-member FTA Watch group, led by former senator Jon Ungphakorn, was given on the condition that it would not leak the information prior to the public hearing, scheduled for Dec 22 at Chulalongkorn University’s faculty of economics.
Virachai Palasai, head of the ministry’s International Economics Department, said the ministry’s deputy permanent secretary Pisan Manawapat, who is the chief negotiator in the controversial trade deal, initiated the pre-hearing session, which was held in the ministry’s meeting room, in the hope of mitigating conflicts ahead of the public hearing. Before this, the ministry had a group of researchers at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) study the text.
FTA Watch issued a statement in praise of the pre-hearing session, saying it would make the public hearing truly meaningful, not just a ritual.
However, the group realised there were time constraints.
Saree Aongsomwang, one of the activists, said the group agreed to observe the condition but it was not possible for it to go through the 700-page text in one day and urged the ministry to consider allowing the activists to take the document home to study.
Mr Jon said there were many points of concern, particularly the fear of industrial waste dumping, adverse effects on the service sector, and the organic living patent in the intellectual property rights chapter.
Somkiat Tangkitvanij of the TDRI yesterday denied a statement on the ministry’s website that he endorsed the text which ’’contains no serious impact’’. He maintained he had a number of points to clarify at the hearing next week.
Following the hearing, the trade agreement will be forwarded to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) for debate next month.