Cabinet gives go-ahead to trade pact with Japan

The cabinet has approved the signing of a free trade area (FTA) agreement with Japan, overriding civic groups' protests that the government is exceeding its authority under the interim constitution. Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont will sign the controversial Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement in Tokyo on Tuesday.

FTA Watch and Bio Thai led protests outside Government House, insisting that the interim government had no legal or political legitimacy to proceed with the signing of the trade accord.

They said they would submit a petition to the Administrative Court tomorrow seeking the impeachment of government officials for ''rushing'' to conclude the agreement and for violating the public hearing process.

Three ministers defended the cabinet decision on Channel 5 last night.

Deputy Prime Minister Kosit Panpiemras said April 3 was the right time for Thailand to sign the economic partnership agreement.

As the fourth country in Asean to sign an FTA with Japan, Thailand could maintain its competitiveness in the world economy, he said.

Science and Technology Minister Yongyuth Yuthavong said non-governmental organisations should not worry about the country's indigenous micro-organisms.

Thai laws forbid anyone from patenting natural micro-organisms, he said. If any Japanese firms or individuals bring change to a micro-organism, a patent could be sought for the change only on the condition Thailand co-owns the patent.

Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram said even after the FTA is signed, specialist panels in government agencies would monitor related activities. The agreement was also subject to a review every three to five years.

Santi Vilassakdanont, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI), welcomed the cabinet's decision.

He said large-scale Thai industries anticipated an overall 30% increase in exports.

Frozen seafood exports to Japan should rise by 20%. Shoe exporters, who have not previously penetrated the Japanese market, would benefit from import duty cuts of 20% annually for five years, when there will be no duty.

Government spokesman Yongyuth Maiyalarp said the cabinet spent 45 minutes listening to the Foreign Ministry's briefing and debating various concerns.

Mr Yongyuth said the government was entitled to make a decision on the issue and to sign the agreement, even though it was not elected.

He rejected rumours the government had traded off the pact in return for easier access to cheap Japanese government loans for three planned skytrain extensions in Bangkok's urban areas.

''The government considers the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement (JTEPA) beneficial to the national interest and believes Japan is sincere about cooperating with Thailand in many fields,'' the spokesman said.

Earlier in the morning Witoon Lianchamroon, director of Biodiversity and Community Rights Action Thailand (Bio Thai), and Nimit Tienudom, director of the Aids Access Foundation, led activists to petition cabinet members to postpone the signing.

In two letters submitted to cabinet secretary Rongphol Charoenphan they said the government should postpone the signing until it had read the civic groups' black-cover book.

The Foreign Ministry had not carried out the cabinet's instruction to collect public opinion on the agreement.

After the cabinet meeting, Pisan Manawapat, deputy permanent secretary for foreign affairs, told reporters this government had shown open-mindedness by allowing debate on the JTEPA in the National Legislative Assembly, even though it was not required to do so.

''We have reviewed the pros and cons of the JTEPA in the past five years and mindful people should agree the negotiators have done their best and care for the national interest no less than the NGOs,'' said Mr Pisan, who headed the negotiating team.

Virachai Plasai, head of the International Economics Department, said the JTEPA would be signed by the Thai and Japanese prime ministers, and the respective foreign ministers would sign an exchange of notes.

The two documents would have legal bearing, while joint declarations by the two premiers, economic ministers, and agriculture ministers would express political spirit and cooperation, he said.

The foreign ministers' notes would reaffirm each party's right to implement national and international laws and duty to cooperate with each other in addressing the issue of hazardous industrial waste, he added.

They would also affirm that the JTEPA would not add more obligations for patenting micro-organisms than already required under the World Trade Organisation.

Eight law professors from Thammasat, Silapakorn, Sukhothaithammathirat, Technology Suranaree and Siam universities stated the FTA signing would be illegal under Article 38 of the interim charter.

Two other civic groups, the Khao Kwan Foundation and the Consumers' Foundation, have also agreed to petition the Administrative Court tomorrow.

From : bangkok post news
By : pla
Date : Mar 28, 2007

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