Civic groups voice FTA worries

Civil society organisations have expressed concerns about Thai-European Union free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations to the European Parliament, which has expressed full support for the pact.

European Parliament member delegations led by chairman of Economic and Monetary Affairs Werner Langen met with representatives of civic groups yesterday.

The delegation arrived in Thailand on Monday. Their visit ends tomorrow.

Organisations working to promote inexpensive access to medicines submitted a letter expressing concerns about the proposed Thai-EU and Asean-EU FTAs.

The groups said they applauded the European Parliament for its objection to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) but they still had grave concerns that a provision similar to the ACTA has been integrated in the FTAs.

Under ACTA, generic life-saving medicines are at risk of being seized in transit if it is suspected they violate intellectual property laws.

The in-transit seizure mechanism would block access to legitimate and legal generic medicines for millions of patients in developing countries, the groups said.

Shiwei Ye, representative of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) for Southeast Asia, called on the EU and the European Parliament to ensure the promotion of universal standards of human rights.

The EU should not pat themselves on the back for hosting a few meetings with selected NGOs or issuing a few statements after human rights defenders have been convicted, he said.

"To truly walk the talk of human rights, the EU needs to speak louder and more often," the activist said.

"The European Parliament needs to hold EU diplomats accountable for their performance in implementing all the human rights instruments," he added.

Meanwhile, Mr Langen said in a press conference yesterday that the European Parliament is hopeful that Thailand would proceed with the FTA and Partnership Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with the EU, since parliament has full support for the agreements. Robert Goebbels, vice-president of the delegation and member of the parliament's committee on industry, research and energy, said he could not judge whether the negotiations would be successful as they had not yet taken place.

"This [Yingluck Shinawatra] government has the full backing of the citizens and the parliament will be the authority to adopt the agreement," Mr Goebbels said.

"This [stage] is just discussions to check give-and-take before entering full negotiations," he added.

He also said he did not understand why civil society was concerned about the impact on alcohol and medicine. He said Thai people already consumed a lot of alcohol and medicines.

David Lipman, the EU ambassador to Thailand, said the negotiations have not started yet as the EU has its own procedure while Thailand had to go through its parliament as required by Section 190 of the constitution.

The Langen delegation has met Ms Yingluck and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong.

About the author

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Writer: Achara Ashayagachat
Position: Senior Reporter