Avoid TPP pact for now
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has it exactly right about the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact. It is a deal that could make or break Thailand -- especially break. He gave the correct diplomatic response to a visiting US business group that was trying to press Thailand and other countries into joining and increasing their participation in TPP. Thailand must study it carefully, and then study it again. It would be impolitic and actually impolite to just say "no". It would be wrong and possibly catastrophic to say "yes".
The diplomatic stance was correct, non-committal, and preserves the status quo. Gen Prayut's response was the same as given in November, 2012 by then-premier Yingluck Shinawatra. If anything, her job was tougher, having to diplomatically fend off US President Barack Obama in person. She was right. Gen Prayut is right and it is in Thailand's interest to stay well away from the contentious TPP negotiations, and then to keep a long distance from the actual treaty, presuming one is forthcoming.
Mr Obama and his business supporters are having a tough time convincing the 12 "TPP partners" to accept his so-called free trade proposals. TPP negotiations have been under way for several years. Only in July did Mr Obama get approval from the Congress to conclude the treaty. And here was the interesting part of the legislature's debate: almost all members of his Democratic Party turned their backs on the president and voted against him.
Just as most Thais think the TPP would be a disaster for this country, so do most Americans. Just as a few powerful Thai political and business interests think the TPP has excellent potential for profits, so do a few powerful US political and business interests. Mr Obama received congressional authority to pursue the TPP treaty only from pro-business members of the Republican Party, Mr Obama's official opposition. Neither of the top two members of Mr Obama's party running for president next year, Hillary Clinton and Sen Bernie Sanders, favours this trade deal.
What are the advantages of the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty? This question is actually impossible to answer. Only a few leaders and top business people even know what is in it. They claim the TPP negotiations can't be made public because it would give away each country's bargaining strategy. Others claim that going public would cause even hotter opposition to the treaty.
Portions of the TPP negotiations have been leaked to the internet's Wikileaks site. They are a disaster from Thailand's viewpoint. The country's tough new copyright laws, revealed last week, are much weaker than those that Hollywood has written into the TPP. Example: under the TPP, it will be illegal to jailbreak your own mobile phone.
Thailand's strongly enforced laws on patent medicine would be mostly thrown out and replaced by massively restrictive new patent laws dictated by Big Pharma. Example: Thailand's right to produce generic medicine in a medical emergency will be annulled.
The TPP negotiators claim to be doing the people's work. If this were true, they would invite the people in to watch. Example: the US-Asean Business Council swept into town, gave a warm welcome to Gen Prayut (which is refused by the US government), and took advantage of the "friendly" occasion to apply diplomatic pressure.
Gen Prayut, as interim leader, should not commit Thailand to such a serious agreement as the TPP. But neither should his successor.
Bangkok Post editorial column
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