Tokyo: Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak clarified Thailand's stance on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Tuesday, saying the country is ready to join the regional trade bloc as soon as it is open for new membership.
Speaking before a gathering of business leaders in Japan, Mr Somkid said Thailand will seek support from member countries including Japan.
Thailand has been holding public hearings to gather feedback from all stakeholders — a process which is expected to take about a year. Public hearings were previously used to sound out people's opinions before the country signed free trade agreements with other countries.
This approach will help reduce conflicts among different groups before Thailand joins the TPP, Mr Somkid said.
Mr Somkid said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has confirmed the country's readiness to join the TPP, and a committee chaired by Commerce Minister Apiradi Tantraporn has been set up to prepare for the move.
The committee has been tasked with studying whether or not it is suitable for Thailand to join the grouping.
They will also take a look at the experiences faced by other member countries in taking care of affected parties after they joined the TPP, Mr Somkid said.
He said the prime minister has stressed the need for the panel to work out measures to provide help and justice to people if Thailand becomes part of the TPP.
"Thailand cannot afford to be complacent. We can take lessons from other member countries. At this point, we are ready to join the TPP. It depends on when they will accept us. Thailand is also ready to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership [RCEP]," Mr Somkid said.
Mr Somkid said the government believes joining the TPP will do more good than harm for the country, adding that even future governments after the election will remain committed to the TPP as the matter has significant implications for the country in the long term.
Ms Apiradi said Tuesday the panel has met representatives of various civil groups to gather views on Thailand's bid to join the TPP.
They include FTA Watch, the Aids Access Foundation, the BioThai Foundation, the StopDrink Network and the Thailand Health Promotion Institute.
The groups expressed concerns about issues involving intellectual property, medicine patents, protection of medical test information, protection of new plant species and allowing investors to sue the state.
Ms Apiradi said the ministry is willing to listen to proposals from all groups and is ready to work with the civil sector and other agencies to safeguard the country's interests.
For those who are expected to be affected by Thailand's TPP membership, the ministry is ready to listen to their concerns and find ways to help ease the impacts, she said.
She said the TPP is the world's largest regional trade bloc, with the combined GDP of all member countries estimated at US$27.4 trillion (978 trillion baht), which accounts for 39.3% of the world's GDP. The combined trade value of the TPP is about $8.7 trillion, accounting for 26.17% of the global trade value, she said.
In light of this, the TPP would inevitably affect Thailand's economic growth, particularly in the export sector, which is the major engine of the country's economy, whether or not the country joins the TPP, she said.
Representatives of civil groups handed their proposals to Ms Apiradi at the Commerce Ministry.
The groups want the Commerce and other ministries including the Public Health Ministry to disclose information, facts and figures relating to the TPP for scrutiny by the public and academics.
They also want the government to explain how it will handle the impacts a monopoly foreign drug companies hold will have on the country's health insurance system if Thailand joins the TPP and is obliged to conform to their wishes under the TPP agreement.
The groups called on the government to carefully study the impacts of a clause in the TPP agreement that outlines the terms and conditions of investor-state dispute settlement, which gives foreign investors the right to directly challenge a host state via international arbitration, should they find local regulations constrain their ability to do business.
They urged the government and economic decision-makers to make the decisions based on the national interest.