Activists from 14 non-governmental organisations and consumer advocacy groups gathered outside Don Mueang airport yesterday to protest against the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement (TPP).
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had said she would not give a commitment on the trade deal to US President Barack Obama, who arrived at Don Mueang yesterday for a whirlwind Bangkok visit.
Nimit Thiam-udom, director of the Aids Access Foundation, said any trade agreement should be made in the public interest rather than to favour business groups, particularly exporters who have been pressuring the prime minister to support the US deal.
The government should seek public comment and consider the deal carefully, not merely do the Americans' bidding.
Saree Aongsomwang, secretary-general of the Foundation for Consumers, said Thailand has to pay more than 100 billion baht each year to buy medicines for the public health system.
If the TPP is signed, Thailand will have to pay about 80 billion baht more to purchase the same medicines from foreign countries, Ms Saree said.
The trade agreement specifies that Thailand cannot bargain for the prices of pharmaceuticals, she added.
Samlee Jaidee, an academic at Chulalongkorn University's faculty of pharmaceutical sciences, said the TPP would also have adverse repercussions on the domestic pharmaceutical industry.
She said the agreement would allow major foreign companies to increase the prices of medicines, wield monopolistic control over the industry, and curb Thailand's bargaining power.
The Commerce Ministry's Department of Trade yesterday defended the government's position on the TPP.
It said the government would only express Thailand's intention to enter TPP negotiations, but would not commit to signing the agreement.
There are procedures involved in studying and approving any decision to join foreign trade deals, as required by Section 190 of the constitution, the department said.
Section 190 requires any international treaty that could affect national security or the economy to be endorsed by parliament.
The Commerce Ministry said it will study the benefits and consequences of the pact and gather public input before drawing up a framework for negotiations to present to the cabinet and to parliament for consideration.
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- Writer: Manop Thip-Osod