Thailand to join TPP talks

Critics call pact a tactic by US to counter China

Thailand has agreed to join negotiations in a United States-led free trade agreement (FTA) in a move which will be formally announced during President Barack Obama's visit here on Sunday.

US officials from the White House visit the roof of Government House to inspect it prior to US President Barack Obama’s visit to Bangkok on Sunday. APICHART JINAKUL

Thailand's entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will be a highlight of the visit by the US president amid concern by activists over the consequences of the far-reaching free trade pact.

The TPP is a proposed regional FTA being negotiated by the US and several Asia-Pacific nations, including Australia, Canada, Vietnam, Mexico and six other countries.

The agreement is aimed at liberalising trade in nearly all goods and services and includes commitments beyond those currently established in the World Trade Organisation.

The cabinet yesterday agreed to the proposal tabled by the Commerce Ministry to have Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra announce the pact in a joint press statement with Mr Obama, the government said on its website.

The agreement would lead to fewer tariffs on Thai exports to the US and would eliminate Thailand's reliance on the America's Generalised System of Preferences.

The decision was attacked by FTA Watch, a non-governmental organisation which has monitored the free trade deal.

The prime minister should be considering this deal thoroughly instead of thinking only about having something to announce with the US leader, FTA Watch said.

The TPP negotiations were revitalised by the US in 2010. The talks will be concluded next year.

With the exclusion of China, the move is seen by some as an attempt to counter the rising economic clout of Beijing and to assert more American influence on Asia.

Washington has boasted the TPP will further liberalise trade among its members.

But Jacquechai Chomthongdi, a FTA Watch coordinator, warned of its negative impacts on Thailand if the country joins the negotiations.

Thailand will struggle to gain access to affordable medicines under the pact as it gives drug manufacturers longer patent protection compared to international standards, he said.

The US is pushing for more liberalisation of the service and investment sectors through the pact, he added.

The agreement is part of a US tactic to create a trade bloc with other Asian countries to put pressure on China to play by America's rules, he said.

Mr Obama's visit marks 180 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Fresh from his presidential election victory, Mr Obama will visit Thailand and Myanmar on his way to the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh.

Thai sources said the US has requested Thai security officers reinforce snipers for security during the visit.

Snipers from the Thai police special force Arintarat have been asked to help with security, the sources said.

The US also requested that Phitsanulok Road, next to Government House, be closed during Sunday's meeting, the sources said.

American officials also asked Thai officers to monitor the high buildings of the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Co-operatives headquarters, Office of the Civil Service Commission and Phranakhon Rajabhat University, which are near the area.

Security preparations for Mr Obama's visit come under the responsibility of Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, government spokesman Thossaporn Sereerak said.

The Secretariat of the Prime Minister yesterday allowed about 30 US officials from the White House, the US embassy and the president's security team to survey Government House.

They inspected and photographed the buildings to be used in the reception and presidential meeting.

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Writer: Pradit Ruangdit and Saritdet Marukatat