21 May 2024

Thailand’s anti-CPTPP civil society organizations, claiming to represent 400,000 citizens, issued an open letter today (Thursday), addressed to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, urging the government immediately to cease plans to join the 11-member Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trade bloc.

Among the member countries are fellow ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam, with applications for membership filed by China and Taiwan.

The Thai civil society organisations claim that joining the trade agreement would put Thailand in a disadvantageous position, by jeopardising Thailand’s food security and access to universal health care and biological diversity, in favour of big Thai companies with connections to multinational corporations.

As the CPTPP issue is to be submitted to the cabinet for approval in the near future, the civil society organisations said in the open letter that they would like the government to take into account the interests of Thailand and its people, rather than those of the big companies and multinational corporations.

Access to the CPTPP would, however, give Thailand a much-needed opportunity to boost exports, attract foreign direct investment (FDI) and create new jobs. Joining is expected to increase exports by 3.47% and investment by 5.14%, boosting GDP by 0.12%, or around 13.3 billion baht.

There are, however, trade-offs for Thailand to consider, according to the civil society organizations.  They said Thailand would have to ratify the 1991 International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), which would grant big agro firms exclusive rights in plant breeding for a mandatory minimum of 20 years. Local farmers would have to purchase seeds from approved sellers every season, since replanting seeds from a previous season would be considered as an infringement of intellectual property rights.

Violators would face up to two years in prison and/or a fine of 400,000 baht, said the organisations, adding that pharmaceutical products made from herbs may be affected too.

Seed monopolies may mean that Thai farmers would have to buy plant seeds at prices 2-6 times higher and this would drive food prices up, while the farming way of life and culture would be disrupted, said the organizations.

Joining CPTPP also means that Thailand would have to accept remanufactured goods as new products, such as those made from plastic and electronic garbage, as Thailand does not have law to differentiate between these goods.

All in all, benefits from signing up to the trade agreement would be concentrated on a handful of large companies, while ordinary people and small businesses would suffer and become trapped in permanent hardship, said the civil society organisations.