NLA weighs pros and cons of Thai-Japan FTA

National Legislative Assembly (NLA) members have mixed opinions over the bilateral trade agreement between Thailand and Japan.

While some acknowledge the economic benefits of the agreement, the others urge the government to address the environmental impact that could come with trade and investment expansion.

Their opinions were expressed during a five-hour NLA debate over the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement, the first free-trade agreement (FTA) the current government has presented to the NLA for scrutiny.

Although no vote was called for after the debate, the opinions of the NLA members will influence the Cabinet members when they consider whether to approve the deal.

Commerce Minister Krirk-krai Jirapaet opened the debate by urging the NLA to give its blessing to the pact. Krirk-krai told the audience, which included Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, that consideration of the FTA was an urgent issue.

"We cannot wait for countries to open up their markets under the Doha Round of World Trade Organisation (WTO) trade negotiations, which have progressed slowly," he said.

Krirk-krai said although some critics said this interim government should not enter into the agreement, the government felt the matter to be urgent, because of strong competition in world markets.

He said Japan was the second most active export market for Thailand and the biggest foreign investor in the Kingdom. Forty per cent of Thailand's food exports go to Japan. About one-fifth of foreign investment in Thailand comes from the Japanese.

"We rely on Japan more than Japan relies on Thailand," said Krirk-krai.

Pramon Sutivong, chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce and an NLA member, voiced his support for the agreement, saying the long-standing relationship was the backdrop of the agreement.

Bangkok and Tokyo started negotiating the agreement five years ago until they wrapped up talks in 2005. However, the signing was delayed from last year, due to the House dissolution.

NLA member Narong Chokwatana, however, questioned the military-installed government's legitimacy in entering into the agreement. He said the current government should wait for an elected government to decide on it. "We've been waiting five years. Why not wait for another year?" he asked.

A number of NLA members urged the government to ensure transparency in passing the agreement. Some questioned why the negotiators did not disclose its details.

Deputy Foreign Ministry permanent secretary Pisan Manawapat noted that the negotiators had to keep some part of the talks secret, due to negotiating tactics.

"We were trying to deal with non-tariff barriers in different layers of the details, he said. "We don't want to give away all of that, because it would make it difficult for us to come up with a good agreement."

NLA member Gothom Areeya urged the government cautiously to consider the impact from the FTA on patent protection of home-grown biotechnology.

He also urged the government to consider the impact on the environment, especially with regard to concerns that Japanese industrial waste might be dumped in the Kingdom.

However, Pisan said some types of ash were not considered industrial waste, but rather served as industrial raw materials. Krirk-krai said that, for instance, ashes could be used in manufacturing plastics.

"With or without the FTA, the government is obliged to control industrial waste strictly through environmental law enforcement," he said.

Akapol Sorasuchart, spokesman for the assembly's Committee on Public Participation, urged the government to sign the agreement, because it should improve the government's image in the eyes of foreign investors.

He said some investors wrongly perceived the government as looking inward. Signing the FTA would improve the government's image, showing it still wanted to continue a policy of liberalisation.

NLA member Jit Siratranont said he supported the agreement and urged the government to sign it quickly. After the debate, he expects Cabinet members to consider the draft agreement next week.

From : The Nation Multimedia
By : PLA
Date : Feb 16, 2007

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