FTA Would Hurt Thais, Expert Warns

posted 28-March-2004

Bangkok Post

19 August 2003

FTA WOULD HURT THAIS, EXPERT WARNS
US LAWS ON PATENTS, COPYRIGHT ENFORCED

Porpot Changyawa

A free trade agreement with the United States would lead to a broader
application of intellectual property rights that could hurt Thais —
from farmers to internet users — an expert has warned.

Jakkrit Kuanpot, an intellectual property rights expert from Sukhothai
Dhammadhiraj University, said a Thai-US free trade area (FTA) agreement
would have an even more severe impact than the World Trade Organisation’s
Treaty on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

Farmers could be forced to pay for growing patented plant varieties and
internet users to pay for browsing the net, he said.

Thailand and the US are set to begin discussions on an FTA agreement
during
the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting (APEC) in Bangkok in
October.

In exchange for special trade privileges under the FTA, Thailand would
have
to provide special protection for US intellectual property rights, Mr
Jakkrit said.

The agreement would allow signatory countries to grant special
privileges to
each other, a provision that is prohibited by the WTO which requires
that
any special privilege granted to a member country must be granted to all.

The US earlier signed similar agreements with Singapore in May and with
Chile in July. The pacts are believed to have become a template for the
Thai-US FTA agreement.

Under the agreement, Chile is required to patent all plant varieties
within
four years. The extended patenting regulation would cover plant tissues
and
genes, leaving no room for local farmers to develop their own strains.

"If the condition is included in the Thai-US agreement, all plant
varieties
would be patented and farmers would be charged for growing these
patented
plants,’’ Mr Jakkrit said.

Thailand’s current Plant Varieties Protection Act has slowly added new
strains to the list, so farmers could develop their own common varieties
without having to rely entirely on patented seeds. Thai laws may need to
be
amended to support the agreement.

Mr Jakkrit said the provision on bio-resources had been targeted at
biodiversity-rich countries. A similar provision was not in the US-Singapore
pact.

The US planned to sign agreements with 34 developing countries in the
western hemisphere, the so-called Free Trade Agreement of the Americas,
and
they were expected to carry a similar provision.

The agreement would also call for stricter application of intellectual
property rights on trademarks, internet domain names, copyright, digital
rights management and satellite signals.

The US had tried to impose its domestic laws on copyrights on internet
materials, Mr Jakkrit warned.

Internet users could be asked to pay for browsing or using materials on
the
net since they had been "copied’’ onto each user’s computer.

"This would hamper the freedom of internet users,’’ Mr Jakkrit said.

Apart from intellectual property rights, the US reportedly also demanded
the
Thai-US bilateral deal cover investment and services. Thai officials
were
confident existing laws and measures would safeguard national interests
if
the service sector was open to US companies.

source :

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