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Silence on Thai-US FTA broken: 1,500 people said NO to FTA!



April 5, 2005 / Pattaya - It took over a thousand and five hundred people blowing their whistle for the Thai government to come out and listen to its people. But did Mr. Nitya Pibulsongkram, head of the Thai negotiating team for the Thai-US Free Trade Agreement (FTA), actually hear them? “I don’t think he heard us,” said Nimit Tienudom, from AID ACCESS Foundation, member of FTA watch. “We are so disappointed. Mr. Nitya just kept telling us that we should trust him, and that he will protect the interest of the Thai people. But how can he do that, when the Thai negotiating team won’t even give us information on the negotiations, let alone have consultations with us. We even had to force our way here in Pattaya to meet with him.”

Mr. Nimit is one of the 15 representatives of the more than 1,500 protesters, allowed to get in the 5-star well-guarded hotel in Pattaya, where the “secret” Thai-US FTA negotiations are being held, from April 4-8, 2005. An official from the government team came down after the protesters simultaneously blew their whistle for one minute, so that the Thai-US negotiating teams will hear them. As Mr. Nimit and the others went to the hotel, the rest of the protesters remained outside, blocked by local and Bangkok police and a fire truck.

The big group was raising issues on the expansion or increased stringency of intellectual property rights protection, which is against the spirit of free trade. “US demands on intellectual property rights, such as protection of life forms, extension of paten protection periods, data exclusivity, etc. These demands, if agreed to, will have serious and widespread adverse impact on the Thai people in terms of access to medicines, will make plant and animal species more expensive, will create the problem of a monopoly on factors of agricultural production,” the FTA watch statement said.

“Mr. Nitya insisted that the Thai government has to continue the negotiations. We asked why the issue of intellectual property rights cannot be exempted when the banking and financial sector is, from the negotiations? And he was just quiet. We asked who decides which sectors are to be negotiated and which ones are not, but he was just quiet. He would not give us answers to our questions, and then he asks us to trust him?” asks Saree Ongsomwang of Consumer Rights Foundation, also of FTA Watch.

Trust is something that is difficult to have now between the Thai negotiating team and the public given the secrecy of this whole Thai-US negotiating team. “The Thai public is left in the dark, while Mr. Nitya and his team are selling our lives to US President Bush,” the protesters were saying. But this is something that the representatives of the FTA Watch vowed to break. As they ended the 4 hour protest action, they committed to launch information campaign on the Thai-US FTA, and the impacts it has on the lives of each and every Thai. “And our voices will be heard. We will go to the parliament, we will go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and to the Embassy of United States of America.”

The protesters, coming from different sectors - slum dwellers, farmers, fisherfolk, persons living with HIV - also performed Sabb Chang, where salt and chili are put over the effigy of Bush, chanting, before burning. This meant to put a curse on the spirit and send it away.

After a disappointing dialogue with Mr. Nitya, a black banner unfurled from the 9th floor of the hotel, saying “Foreigners conquer our country. Agricultural sector has collapsed. Thai people are given expensive drugs. NO TO FTA!”

FTAWatch is a coalition of 7 sectoral orgsanisations monitoring and campaigning on FTA issues.

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