Yingluck: TPP 'not on agenda'
The US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will not be on the agenda of talks with US President Barack Obama, says Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
- Published: 17/11/2012 at 07:26 PM
- Newspaper section: topstories
The country at this stage is only studying the pros and cons of entering talks, the premier said as activists prepared to stage a rally against the pact at Don Mueang airport on Sunday afternoon when Mr Obama arrives.
One of Thailand's most prominent international figures has also cautioned against rushing into the TPP. Supachai Panitchpakdi, the secretary-general of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad), said the country had to consider carefully the potential impact of the TPP on trade, investment and intellectual property rights.
A joint statement by Mr Obama and Ms Yingluck on Sunday evening is expected to affirm Thailand's interest in joining the TPP pact. Mr Obama, who is making his first visit to Thailand, has made expanding the TPP a top priority for US foreign and trade policies.
"A number of parties have expressed concern about Thailand's participation in the TPP," Ms Yingluck said.
"No agreement has been made. We are only expressing interest in studying the details and the pros and cons. There will be no talks on this issue with President Obama."
Ms Yingluck said any decision to join the TPP would first have to be approved by the cabinet and the Parliament, and that the views expressed by all parties would be considered before any decision is made.
If it goes ahead, Thailand would be the 12th country to join the TPP. Other countries that have committed to talks include Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Critics of the TPP claim it would be heavily tilted in favour of the United States, which wants to link trade closely to intellectual property, environmental protection and labour rights.
Local activists in particular fear a potential impact on Thai healthcare, as they say the US would use the TPP to protect big American pharmaceutical companies and block availability of low-cost medicines.
Jiraporn Limpananont, chairwoman of the Foundation for Consumers, said the Thai government would face additional healtchare expenses of 620 billion baht over 30 years if drug patents were extended under the TPP agreement.
The government would face a bigger and stronger protest if it goes ahead with TPP negotiations, said Jacques-Chai Chomthongdi, the coordinator of FTA Watch, which is organising Sunday's airport protest.
Some critics also note that Washington has not explicitly invited China to join the TPP, leading them to believe that the US is trying to force Pacific nations to choose between two superpowers.
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on Saturday said that was untrue.
"We continue to consult with Japan, and we are offering to assist with capacity building so that every country in Asean can eventually join," Mrs Clinton said in Singapore. "We welcome the interest of any nation willing to meet the 21st century standards of the TPP -- including China."
Dr Supachai, meanwhile, said Thailand would potentially benefit more under trade liberalisation talks already under way between Asean, China, Korea and Japan (Asean+3), as well as a separate pact that would combine the Asean+3 with India, Australia and New Zealand.
The TPP, he said, was a "next-generation" free-trade agreement more advanced than the one laid out under the Doha round of the World Trade Organisation. The TPP covers issues such as intellectual property and pharmaceuticals, labour and the environment.
"Thailand may lack policy space [under the TPP]. Neither China nor Japan have entered the TPP talks, and there is a concern that there may be imbalances between the large members and the smaller ones," said Dr Supachai, a former Thai deputy prime minister and WTO chief.
"Ultimately, the US is leading the direction of the TPP."
Withoon Lianchamroon, director of the BioThai Foundation, a non-profit group working on alternative agriculture, voiced concern that the TPP would force Thailand to adopt genetically modified (GM) crops as US companies have almost 80% market of GM business.
Suthy Prasartset, an independent political economist, urged the government to consult the Bank of Thailand before entering negotiations as the pact could affect capital flows and financial services.
"Mr Obama is coming here to protect the befenefits of IT and drug companies. The trade deal has clearly shown that US-based companies must get the maximum benefit from the free trade pact," he said.
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