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At the focus of the Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem9) summit in Laos is the trade and investment relations. On 4 November, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra informed Mr José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission that Thailand was ready to continue its FTA negotiations with the EU since Thailand has already removed its internal obstacles and could start the negotiations at the beginning of next year.

Mr Jacques-Chai Chomthongdee, coordinator of the FTA Watch group pointed out that a number of leading European think tanks have analyzed that the Eurozone crisis would result in dramatic changes in the EU trade positions, not to mention the decreasing economic and purchasing power that will diminish the benefits to be gained by the FTA partners accordingly. Such view is in agreement with the interview previously given by Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary-general of UNCTAD. Of greater concern is the Ministry of Commerce’s FTA negotiations framework that is still based on the impact study conducted before the outbreak of the Eurozone crisis, so it cannot account for the current affairs of the situation. Therefore, the government should conduct a new comprehensive and updated impact study as fast as possible.

Moreover, critical attention should be given to the negotiation procedure. If the government is determined to continue its FTA negotiations with the EU, it should properly follow the constitutional requirements, particularly Section 190 paragraph 3, which requires that “Council of Ministers shall provide information and cause to be conducted public hearings” so that such trade negotiations will actually benefit the country and wider society.

“So far, the government through the Ministry of Commerce’s Department of Trade Negotiations has not properly followed constitutional procedure, which is neither obstructive nor difficult at all. On the contrary, the procedure will verify that the trade negotiations actually benefit the nation and wider society without concentrating the benefits on a limited circle but widely spreading the adverse effects as before.

“In fact, what the DTN did during 2010 were the public hearings that had provided no information so that the participants could not voice their views about the government’s positions or contents of the negotiations framework. In addition, the focus group sessions organized by the DTN last September could not be considered as public hearings. Though some part of the draft positions of the DTN were presented for discussion, the organizing of the focus groups was too specific and the participants were informed of the sessions at short notice. More importantly, no consultations were made with major stakeholders concerning such issues as alcoholic beverages and tobacco.

“So if the government is about to present the draft negotiations to parliament without conducting public hearings, it is at high risk of violating the constitution, which will badly affect the government and the country. Therefore it is urgently necessary that the government conducts public hearings on the draft negotiations framework before presenting it to parliament, which won’t be time-consuming at all,” said the FTA Watch coordinator.

Mr Nimitr Tian-Udom, director of AIDS Access Foundation added that the potential impacts on access to medicines could affect national budget to the amount of at least 80,000 million baht a year.

“The DTN as secretary of the negotiating team did not refer to any academic studies in its preparation of the framework and even tried to prevent the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Intellectual Property, which are most knowledgeable about the issues, to participate in the preparation”

The civil society sector has complained to concerned committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate. This issue will be placed before Senate’s Committee on Foreign Affairs on 7 November 2012.

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