Speedy-and-careless Negotiating Framework Drafted by the Ministry of Commerce
The Thai government is going to officially begin the negotiation on the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the European Union (EU) on March 6-7. This FTA talk will cover several matters that have never been discussed in other FTAs before. All those matters, including intellectual property in medicines and biodiversity, foreign investment’s protection and arbitration for international dispute settlement between state and the private sector, and goods harmful to health (e.g. alcohol and cigarette), have severe impacts in diverse aspects. Thus, it is compelled to attain the Parliament’s endorsement and to pursue consultation process according to the Constitution’s Section 190.
However, all the procedures – the public’s consultation, the negotiation’s preparation, the negotiating framework’s drafting, and the consideration by the Cabinet and the Parliament, were riddled with flaws. So does the negotiation’s content. Several concerns over long- lasting adverse effects to the society were neglected.
The Commerce Ministry cited that it ran over 60 times of nationwide consultation meeting. But, a draft of the negotiating framework had never been shared in those public hearings at all. Only a board question of “what people think about FTAs” had been thrown to people participating in the hearings. Moreover, concerns and recommendation raised in the consultations were not taken into account or included in the negotiating framework that was already endorsed the Parliament.
The negotiation to begin has not take considerable factors into account, which include the country’s development level, sustainability, the country’s safeguard mechanism, legal preparedness in the country, adjustment’s lead time, and safety net measures for the unpleasant impact.
Nurturing the Immature Industry
- The negotiation blindly aims to sustain the country’s Generalized System of Preference (GSP). Despite the fact that Thailand’s GSP will be cut off in the near future, it is because Thailand is no longer eligible to the EU’s GSP – Thailand’s per capita income has moved up to the upper-middle level for three years in a row and its export has taken over the market larger than 17.5%. Without the GSP, it does not mean that Thailand will totally lose its revenue from the export to the EU, amounting to Baht 2.97 hundred billion. Instead, it’s estimated that only Baht 79,422 will be dropped due to the GSP removal. And, the ongoing Eurozone crisis is also a key factor to be considered and its impact will discourage Thailand from earning great income from the export to the EU.
- The Thai government ambitiously set the timeframe to have ten rounds of negotiation within 1.5 years to complete the FTA negotiation with the EU – this is to ensure it will be able to renew the EU’s GSP in time in early 2015. Such swift timeframe undermines its power in the negotiation with the EU.
- The industrial sector’s demands – not to riase the bar of labor protection, environmental protection, and measures to address climate change, are wellaccepted by the government.
Neglecting the Impact on People’s Lives and Livelihoods
If Thailand accepts the stricter intellectual property (IP) conditions on
medicines, the lifesaving medicines’ market will be taken over longer. The medicines’ prices will be tremendously expensive due to lack of competition. A great number of patients will not be able to access to necessary medicines. Health budget’s burden will increase significantly and the country’s health insurance program will be at risk to collapse, because of the high medicine cost.
If we allow strict IP protection on biodiversity, it paves the way to favor the multinational corporations to take over the seed supply. It’ll result in high production costs in the agriculture sector and definitely an increase in food’s prices.
If we free the foreign investment in natural resources and agriculture and overprotect the foreign investors, small-scale farmers will be vulnerable to lose their control in production assets and become farming labors in their own lands. Food’s supply chain and food prices will be under control of the multinational food industry.
While the lifesaving medicines are so expensive, goods harmful to health (e.g. alcohol and tobacco) will be greatly benefited from the tariff reduction. They will be sold at cheap prices and encourage the larger number of new-face drinkers or smokers, who are at risk to chronic morbidity. The FTA will also restrict the state’s policy enforcement and its legislation to control alcohol’s and tobacco’s consumption.
FTAs with the condition of the international dispute settlement mechanisms is a great barrier preventing the government to legislate and/or enforce laws and policies in order to safeguard its citizens in the matters of public health, consumer’s protection, environment, farming, and small medium enterprise. If the government imposes a policy undermining the foreign investors’ earning, it allows the investors to sue the government for compensations and/or the policy revocation in the international arbitration, rather than a court in the country.
FTAs with restrictions on IP more stringent than the World Trade Organization’s standard will as well hinder access to knowledge through books and the online cyber world.
To ensure that the whole nation will truly achieve the benefits out of the FTA between Thailand and the EU by recognizing the balance of the benefits and the adverse impact on people who are directly affected by the FTA and also people in general, we are urging Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra, the Prime Minister, and Mr. Olarn Chaipravat, the Thailand-EU FTA negotiation team’s leader, to give the social commitment before the public that the Thailand- EU FTA negotiation’s delegation must have the firm negotiation’s positions that:
- Thailand shall not accept the content of the Thailand-EU FTA negotiation on intellectual property that is stricter than the World Trade Organization’s TRIPS Agreement, which is known as TRIPS-plus provisions including patent term extension, data exclusivity, and border measures. And, the existing biodiversity protection law, that is already complied with TRIPS Agreement and Convention on Biological Diversity, must remain unchanged.
- The international dispute settlement mechanism in the investment chapter must not be applied to the disputes over social investment, policy enforcement and legislation to safeguard the public’s interests, environment protection, and policies on public health, infrastructure, and security by, using the international arbitration.
- Investments affecting natural resources, farming, aquaculture, plant propagation, and food security, shall not be freed.
- Alcohol and tobacco must be removed out of the negotiation.
- Consultation with all the stakeholder sectors’ participation shall be carried out prior to and after every round of the negotiation. In the consultation meeting, the negotiation team must also declare the positions and the progress of the negotiation, and take recommendation from the stakeholders’ consultation into account and comply with the recommendation by balancing different interests of all the stakeholders.
- The Thai Network of People living with HIV/AIDS (TNP+) Thai NGO Coalition on AIDS
- Foundation for AIDS Rights
- AIDS ACCESS Foundation
- Renal Failure Patient Group Cancer Patient Group
- Drug Study Group
- Foundation for Consumers Rural Pharmacists Foundation Thai Holistic Health Foundation BioThai Foundation
- Alternative Agriculture Network (AAN)
- Ecological Alert and Recovery – Thailand (EARTH) Assembly of the Poor
- 4 regions of Slum Network
- Stopdrink Network
- The Youth Network of the New Drinkers’ Protection Health & Development Foundation
- Focus on the Global South
- FTA Watch
- Alcohol’s Danger Protection Campaign
- The Network of Community Affected by Alcohol
- The Network of the Alcohol’s Danger Surveillance in Bangkok Network