It is no surprise that lifting trade barriers and international economic integration took centre stage at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit held in Bali earlier this month. In the Leaders' Declaration released at the end of the summit, the goal of achieving a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) was reaffirmed and the benefits of such an agreement were lauded. But what is disturbing is the continuing secrecy surrounding negotiations for a major stepping stone along the way to an FTAAP _ the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which includes 12 Apec members including the US and Japan who make up almost 40% of the global economy.
High-level representatives of the dozen countries involved said they had made "significant progress" in Bali towards a deal and predicted it would likely be wrapped up by the end of the year. The US is a main driver of the TPP, and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra told visiting US President Barack Obama in November last year that Thailand is interested in joining the partnership but has some reservations and needed to study its details.
Ms Yingluck knows that free trade agreements have become a hard sell in countries around the globe, both developed and developing, and she was right not to commit Thailand without broad support in all sectors of society. A lack of transparency in the negotiations is precisely why such support will be hard to come by in Thailand and across the Asia-Pacific region. An article published at the end of September on the website of the think-tank Global Research says "the TPP has been drafted with an unprecedented degree of secrecy. While information has been kept from the public more than 600 corporate advisers have access to the treaty's text including companies such as Halliburton, Monsanto, Walmart, and Chevron. The Obama administration has kept the TPP classified, making it the first-ever classification of a trade agreement. In addition to denying public access to its text, the president has urged Congress to use Fast Track to pass the treaty".
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