Thailand reluctant to join TPP

Protesters are voicing concerns over negative impacts of a Thai TPP membership

Thailand is meeting US President Barack Obama’s invitation to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade community of Asia-Pacific nations and North and South America, with caution.

After Obama proposed Thailand’s membership to Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra during his visit to Bangkok on November 18, the opinion of the business community in Thailand has obviously turned against the TPP.

“A number of parties have expressed concern about Thailand’s participation in the TPP,” Yingluck said. She added that she did not discuss the TPP membership with Obama when he was in Thailand.

Thai officials are still studying the merits of entering into talks to join the free-trade group, the Bangkok Post reported. Certain factions in the country oppose membership,  fearing its potential impact on trade, investment and intellectual property rights.

Yingluck said any decision to join the TPP would first have to be approved by the cabinet and the parliament, and that the views expressed by all parties would be considered before any decision is made.

If it goes ahead, Thailand would be the 12th country to join the TPP. Other countries that have committed to talks include Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Meanwhile, fourteen Thai social activist groups have jointly submitted an open letter to Yingluck Shinawatra, calling on the government to refrain from negotiations with the US for the TPP membership.

The letter, endorsed by the Free Trade Agreement Watch and 13 health-related non-governmental organisations, said the negotiations should not be held until studies on its merits and negatives are clear to all parties in society and consultations are sought from the people.

Bloggers in Thailand have voiced concerns that Thailand might be “at the mercy of Wall Street” after joining the TPP.

One particular fear is a potential impact on Thai healthcare, as activists warn that the US would use the TPP to protect big American pharmaceutical companies and block availability of low-cost medicines, a major pillar of the Thai healthcare system.