On the same day, the USABC also visited Chakramon Phasukavanich, Minister of Industry, for a reverent greeting and a consultation regarding industrial and investment cooperation between the U.S. and Thailand. Atchaka Sibunruang, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Industry also joined the meeting.
On August 7th, USABC visited Thailand’s Prime Minister, General Prayut Chan-o-cha. Topics of consultation revolved around general economic and investment situations, and political reform roadmap. However, what interesting was the fact that Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP) was always mentioned in every meeting. Concerning the TPP, it is a large scale free trade area agreement that include Pacific Rim countries. It comprises 12 members, e.g. the U.S. as the leading member, Japan, Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Meanwhile, four other countries are interested in joining, namely, Columbia, Philippines, South Korea and Taiwan.
Kannikar Kijtiwatchakul, FTA Watch coordinator, explained that apart from the economic aspect, the U.S. would also like to use this partnership as a mean in keeping out China. Still, due to the extreme demand in many aspects viz. protections for intellectual property rights, and services in agricultural production, the negotiation process was delayed, despite the initial intention of completing the negotiation by August 2015.
From Tier 3 to TPP
When the news reporter asked General Prayut concerning the TPP, he said that the TPP had not been mentioned in any part of the conversation; TPP is a serious matter to a nation, thus, representatives from the Ministry of Public Health must be attending in order to discuss such matter. On the other hand, Apiradi informed that Thailand will wait for the settlement of contents in the TPP agreement. This is for Thailand to be able to assess how TPP will favorably and/or adversely affects Thailand before it takes further actions.
This shows that the one of the agendas appearing in the visits of USABC includes that of the TPP. Also, the U.S.’s observable movements in recent periods reveal interesting aspects in such regard.
On August 27th, the U.S. Department of State released the 2015 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, which include global situations and ranking of each country’s situation on the matter. As released, trafficking in Thailand has been ranked at Tier 3 for 2 consecutive years. Tier 3 refers to a country that whose government do not fully comply with the minimum standard of the U.S.’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, and are not making significant efforts to do so.
On the other hand, Cuba, Uzbekistan, and Malaysia were raised to Tier 2 from Tier 3, which refers to the stage where the governments do not fully comply, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance.
Nonetheless, it is the first time that the TIP report was terribly criticized saying that the result was rather political rather than straightforwardly ranked. Sarah Margon, Director of Washington Human Rights Watch, stated that it seems like this is the first time the TIP report was used for a political reason, and such action will lead to its untrustworthiness. Also, the 2015 TIP reported was attacked by the Republican Party that it will damage the standard of the report. The report was criticized even from the senate council of the Democrat Party itself that the more accurate result was to keep Malaysia at Tier 3.
The story became more interesting considering the fact that the U.S.’s legislation prohibits its government from signing any kind of agreement with a country ranked at Tier 3. Malaysia is one of the countries planned to sign the TPP right after the release of the 2015 TIP report. Thus, expectedly, many saw such TIP ranking result to be oriented with trade and political benefits.
Not long after the 2015 TIP report release, then came the USABC’s visit to General Prayut.
Using the junta’s disadvantage to pressure
After the coup d’état on May 22th, 2015, many western countries have lost confidence regarding the status of Thailand. Such situation has forced Thailand to step up its relationship with China. However, the Thai government is still seeking for acceptance from western countries especially the EU and the U.S. This kind of issue has always been disadvantageous to junta governments; and such disadvantage is realized among those western countries all along.
In 1992, Anand Panyarachun’s government, appointed by the National Peace Keeping Council (NPKC), agreed to revise the Patent Act regarding drug patent 8 years before the actual WTO’s regulation was enacted. That agreement had destroyed the domestic pharmaceutical industry of Thailand.
In 2008, General Surayud Chulanont’s government, from the Council of National Security (CNS), signed the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement (JTEPA) that allows Japan to deposit hazardous waste in Thailand. During that period, a member of the National Legislative Assembly even stated that Thailand should agree to the JTEPA’s terms because Thailand is in need for international confidence and acceptance.
In 2015, it seems that the U.S. is still exploiting the junta’s disadvantage in order to pressure Thai junta government. As a result, the visit of the USABC to the Thai government may imply more than just a general greeting and discussion. Such implication can be derived from the fact that the position of the 29 representatives from, for example, Abbot, Microsoft, Eli Lilly, Philip Morris, and Monsanto, seems to be related to certain sensitive issues such as drug patent, intellectual property rights, and GM crop.
TPP will lead to problems in drug, seed, and public policy issues
For example, if Thailand were to join the TPP, such action will inevitably affects public well-being especially in public health because it will heighten the cost of access to medicine at around 8,477.7 million baht. The increase is due to the intensified protections of drug patent. Moreover, Thailand will have to revise its patent on life which will lead to seed monopolization. As a result, cost to farmers will increase of around 50,000-100,000 million baht.
Although none of the agreements has been signed during the current junta government due to the fact that the U.S. will not sign with junta governments, the outcomes are not yet settled. The government may just postpone the legislative revision in order to satisfy the western countries as happened in the past, or happening at present. For example, the attempt to revise the trademark law such that it would also cover smell and sound, or the attempt to revise Thailand’s biosafety guidelines in order to legalize GM crop plantation in Thailand. The National Reform Council (NRC) unanimously rejected the draft of latter attempt.
Besides, Kannikar, the FTA Watch coordinator, added that the TPP also includes contents regarding investment protection that are seriously opposed by civil and academic societies in 12 countries, where TPP is currently negotiated. Such opposition is due to the fact that the TPP will allow foreign investors to file administrative lawsuits against public policies that are beneficial to citizens. The inability to settle the issues led to negotiation failures.
On the other hand, Barak Obama, the President of the United States of America, expects that the TPP will be another prominent achievement of his. Simultaneously, the business sector in Thailand also afraid that Thailand will fall behind the world’s economy if it were not to join the TPP. As a result, these factors has added up pressure to Thailand in the course of negotiation. What comes after is the need for a closer watch regarding how the junta, the presumably “fragile” in the eyes of foreign countries, will cope with the situation because Thailand will likely to incur more loss rather than gain as a result of this agreement.