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The decision earlier this week by the House Committee on the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) to seek more time to study the impact of the controversial agreement means the country has prolonged its delay in joining the newly formed trade bloc which is to meet early next month in Mexico. That decision was the right one to make.
The committee said that it needed at least another 60 days to study the deal in detail.
Over the past few years, the Commerce Ministry, with support from Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, has pushed for Thailand to become a member. It has kept warning that the country might miss the economic boat if it does not join the grouping quickly.
“If Thailand does not join the pact, it will lose an opportunity and be overtaken by neighbouring countries like Singapore and Vietnam which have already joined,” said a senior commerce official who insisted the agency had studied all the effects of the trade deal.
However, regarding the impact of the agreement, it is better not to rush to join the bloc which has 11 member countries comprising Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
In fact, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s “no rush” position has eased pressure on the parties involved.
Civic networks spearheaded by FTA Watch and BioThai have carried out a series of staunch campaigns against the trade deal which they said will put the farming sector, medicine and health industries at a severe disadvantage.
Of grave concern are the intellectual property provisions under the controversial Protection of New Varieties of Plants Convention. The provisions, better known as UPOV199, are said to prohibit farmers from saving and reusing seeds which contain patented plant materials. However, the Trade Negotiation Department has disputed the claim, insisting that farmers still have the right to store seeds — but only for non-commercial use.
The activists warned also that if Thailand joins the CPTPP, its consumer protection mechanisms will be undermined, especially in relation to potentially risky products such as genetically modified food. By joining the bloc, Thailand will have to open its doors to genetically modified products as dictated by clauses on the trade of modern biotechnological products.
More importantly, the pact has caused a divide between state agencies. While the Trade Negotiation Department is a major proponent, officials at the Public Health Ministry have countered the move. Early this year, Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul made it clear he and ministry officials were against the pact.
Since the content of the pact is contentious, it requires consultation and a public participation process. However, there have been allegations that the public participation process, like with so many state projects, is only ceremonial in what is seen as a means to justify it.
It’s still not too late to start anew with public partici- pation.
In fact, the House panel should play a leading role in arranging for wider consultation so that every angle of the pact can be thoroughly discussed from who would gain and who would lose and which sector should get priority. Last but not least, it should consider if being a member would compromise the country’s position as the kitchen of the world.
If the disadvantages outweigh the benefits, the country should dump the pact once and for all.