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Thai officials dispute opposition claims on free trade with US

The Irrawaddy News, Thailand

Thai Officials Dispute Opposition Claims on Free Trade with US

By Sai Silp

6 January 2006

An official from Thailand’s bilateral Free Trade Agreement negotiating team today disputed claims by opposition groups that a free trade agreement with the US would adversely affect the country’s prescription drug market.

Nit Piboonsongkram, leader of the Thai FTA team, said today in a conference in Bangkok that the government realizes the importance of the drug price issue, and any agreement with the US would not affect prescription drugs.

Kamol Uppakaew, the leader of an HIV network group in Thailand, disagrees. He told The Irrawaddy by phone today that any free trade agreement would provide greater business opportunities to drug manufacturers, who own drug patents and who could control prices.

According to Kamol, patients living with HIV could pay as much as 10,000 baht (approximately US $250) per month for anti-retroviral drugs. He added that prices of all prescription drugs could increase from 30 to 500 percent in the next 10 years under a free trade agreement.

Groups opposed to any free trade agreement with the US announced yesterday in a press statement that they will converge on Chiang Mai to protest FTA negotiations, scheduled for January 9 to 13.

Protesters are expected from 10 activist networks, including HIV/AIDS networks, agricultural and labor groups, and an FTA watchdog group, and will seek to gather members from across Thailand to participate in the planned protest.

Ubol Yuwaa, a member of a farm network, said that any trade agreement with the US would adversely affect agriculture in Thailand and could lead to an increase in the use of Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMO crops from the US. He added that GMO crops could destroy local biodiversity, and any advantage from a free trade agreement would only benefit big business and not local farmers.

This month’s FTA negotiations in Chiang Mai constitute the sixth round of meetings to iron out a trade agreement, involving issues such as open markets for agricultural products, textiles, medicine and other forms of economic cooperation between Thailand and the US.

In addition to protests in Chiang Mai, opposition groups also plan to gather at the US embassy in Bangkok.