USA pressing hard for US-Thai FTA

Chiangmai Mail, Thailand

USA pressing hard for US-Thai FTA

Nopniwat Krailerg and Chiangmai Mail

Editorial staff

Vol. 5, No. 26, June 24-30

It is believed that the US was behind the unexpected transfer of William Aldis, who published an article in the Bangkok Post on Jan 9, urging Thailand to think carefully before signing the Free Trade Agreement with the US, because restrictive intellectual property rights under the bilateral trade agreement would prevent Thailand from using affordable locally produced generic drugs. He said anti-viral HIV drugs would be extremely expensive after the FTA went into force. Local manufacturers are of the same view.

In the wake of the sudden and unexpected transfer of William Aldis from his post as WTO representative in Thailand after warning the Thai government to think hard before signing a Free Trade Agreement with the USA, Bea Camp, US Consul general to Chiang Mai presented Howard F. Rosen, a researcher from the Institute for International Economics and executive director of Trade Adjustment Assistance Coalition at a press conference in the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel, Chiang Mai, urging quick acceptance.

The subject of discussion was “The US-Thailand FTA: if Now, When?” Howard, despite the fact that the US is pressing hard to conclude the 6th round of talks and he was presented by the US consul general, said that he did not come as a representative of the US government, but as the representative of an NGO and was only a professional in world trade economy.

When asked what Thai farmers or Thailand will get from an FTA with the US, Howard Rosen, ignoring what has happened in other countries, replied that farmers all over the world are facing the same problem; that is lack of skills, knowledge, and product development due to living in remote areas. If there were an agreement for an FTA, there will be cooperation between two governments. Products and food prices will drop and other improvements will occur; such as education, roads, product development moving from cottage industries to industrial factories. Farmers will gain advantage in time and higher income. He continued to say that we should not look at an FTA just as free trade, but we have to look at it as trade negotiation. He gave the example that, at this time, Thailand is facing trouble exporting shrimps to the US. If there were negotiations, there will be no problems.

The US sees Thailand as a big market, but the signing of an agreement has been delayed, due partly to the series of crises that have hit the Thai government and to protests from the people. The US is trying to persuade Thailand to sign quickly by dangling the carrot of, as Howard Rosen said, being able to export more products in a globalized economy, being a One World Market. Signing the agreement will ensure that there will be buyers and product taxes in the US will be low; the Thai textile industry was cited and it was promised that they will be better-known in the world market if the agreement is ratified.

However, this FTA faces strong opposition in Thailand amid concerns a deal would hamper Thailand’s development of cheap anti-AIDS drugs, disadvantage Thai farmers and allow foreigners to control privatized state enterprises and raise prices of basic services.

These objections were summarily dismissed by Howard Rosen who responded that, previously, there were no negotiations, so people got confused. Negotiations have to take place and everything will be dealt with.

Importantly, Thai people will get more US medicine. He continued obscurely, “it is not only about politics, but also about humanity.”

After the carrot came the stick. For many reasons; including the US President leaving office in 2007, if there are changes in other ways, Thailand will lose this opportunity and have to start from the beginning again. Or the US may negotiate with other countries and Thailand will lose this good opportunity.

The US - which is also in FTA talks with South Korea and Malaysia - hopes to send all three FTA deals to Congress for approval by July 1, 2007, though Korean labor leaders have told their government to slow down negotiations of a U.S.-Korea Free Trade agreement. There is little chance that Thailand, with a lame caretaker government, will be able to do much before that date.

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