Last-minute bid to block signing
'No better than Thaksin,' accuses Thailand's Human Rights Commission
In an 11th-hour effort to block a bilateral-trade pact between Thailand and Japan, National Human Rights Commission chairman Saneh Chamarik yesterday criticised the government of Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont for failing to listen to the opponents of the agreement and rushing to sign it.
He said that the current government's rush to sign the agreement showed it was no different from the previous government of deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
"We've been following the negotiations all along, from the [days of the] previous government to the present one. But they haven't listened to our objections on the future problems [that will be] caused by this agreement," he said.
Surayud flew to Japan yesterday on a four-day trip. He will sign the free-trade agreement (FTA) called the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today. Surayud was scheduled to kick off a "Thai-Japanese Tourism Exchange Year" campaign yesterday and has been invited to address a luncheon at the Japan National Press Club today.
The FTA, which has been under negotiation for more than three years, was an initiative of the Thaksin government. The signing was delayed from last April 3 after Thaksin earlier dissolved the House of Representatives and called a general election for April 2, 2006 - one day before the scheduled signing.
Saneh questioned the present government's motives in rushing to sign the agreement.
"The government only sticks to the commitments made by the negotiators' circle without listening to the wise men, academics and civil society, all of whom are calling for the disclosure of information so that we can study and analyse the impact [of the FTA] on Thais and the righteousness of this agreement." Asked what he planned to do next, Saneh said he would ask the public to remember what this government has rushed to do and judge the impact on the country for themselves.
However, Thai jewellery producers say Thai exporters should benefit from the agreement.
Thai Jem and Jewellery Traders' Association director Montri Netkanthee said the agreement should maintain Thailand's trade potential. At present, Thai jewellery products occupy an intermediate level, with serious competition from India and China, which have lower labour costs.
The FTA should allow Thai exporters to enter the Japanese market with competitive costs. However, Vietnam is also negotiating a free-trade deal with Japan, he said.
"Without the agreement, the real damage will happen in the long haul; that is, we will lose the Japanese market. In the short term, we'll lose export opportunities," he said.
The Japanese Auto Parts Association earlier promised that after the agreement was signed, it would invest an additional Bt40 billion in Thailand.
Nevertheless, the non-governmental organisation FTA Watch plans to stage a protest today in front of the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok.
Meanwhile, Phatra Securities said the signing of the Thai-Japanese FTA would benefit the auto sector. Import tariffs on steel and auto parts will be cut, which will benefit auto-makers and their suppliers.
The broker said since Thailand was the world's second-largest producer of pickups, it expected that lower tariff rates would result in lower manufacturing costs, and thus auto-makers' cost-competitiveness would be enhanced, enabling them to penetrate new export markets, especially Europe.
Phatra also believes there will be structural changes in the auto industry as a result of the Thai-Japanese deal. The agreement will draw more Japanese manufacturers to Thailand, and they will capture market share from smaller players. Only tier-1 suppliers, or companies with joint ventures with Japanese companies, will be able to maintain a market share. Hence, more joint ventures with Japanese companies are expected.
In the long run, it is highly likely that more Japanese suppliers will relocate to Thailand, in order to take advantage of lower production costs, and this will have a significant impact on domestic parts-makers, especially tier-2 and lower suppliers, which will lose their market share to the newcomers.