Twenty-eight civic groups have warned the government against entering into a free-trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union.
Members of the FTA Watch group hold up a placard urging the government to be careful before entering into a free trade deal with the EU. APICHART JINAKUL
They have asked authorities to avoid controversial issues and seek House approval before signing any deal.
About 1,500 members of the groups under the umbrella network of FTA Watch gathered outside Government House yesterday to voice their concerns.
The network said Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and prime ministerial adviser Olarn Chaipravat, who is the FTA chief negotiator, should pay full attention to their demands.
The premier will lead the Thai delegates to discuss FTA-related issues with European Union representatives in Belgium on Wednesday and Thursday.
Many members of the network, including a Thai HIV-patient group known as Thaiplus and anti-alcohol and alternative farming groups, are worried the talks could make medicine for serious diseases more expensive and enhance the trade in alcohol and tobacco which is harmful to health, FTA Watch leader Kannika Kittiwetchakun said.
The issue of how to settle conflicts between the government and foreign companies through international arbitration, especially those concerning state policies to protect public interests and the environment, also needs careful consideration, she said.
Any FTA talks regarding these issues must be approved by the parliament under Section 190 of the constitution, she said.
Section 190 requires House approval for international agreements that can affect national sovereignty and social and economic security.
The group said the government must not allow investments that endanger natural resources and threaten food security.
Mr Olarn gave his assurance yesterday that the deal will be considered with the public interest in mind. Mr Olarn was speaking after talks with FTA Watch representatives.
FTA Watch coordinator Chakchai Chomthongdi said Mr Olarn agreed that after each round of talks, the negotiating team must brief FTA Watch on what was discussed with the EU.
The team must also collect public input before it negotiates each round.
Experts and FTA Watch will also be allowed a say in issues to be put up for discussion.