Map of Thailand: iStock
Map of Thailand: iStock

The Thai Department of Trade Negotiations on Tuesday held its second public hearing on the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which the government in March expressed interest in joining. About 170 participants from local farmers’ associations, the business sector, and women’s groups from Chiang Mai and surrounding provinces attended the meeting.

The government heard many concerns raised by farmers and civil-society organizations, including issues such as access to seeds and the livelihood of farmers.

Vice-Commerce Minister Sakon Waranyawattana stated that the purpose of this public hearing was to collect opinions and concerns from stakeholders in various regions regarding the CPTPP. As Thailand is still studying the opportunities and challenges of this trade agreement, one of the activities is to organize public hearings to gather the opinions of the Thai people. The issues raised during the public hearings will be compiled along with other studies and shared with the government for the decision-making process.

Dr Rachada Jiasakul, a representative of Bolliger & Company, a private consulting firm, made a presentation as a third-party impact assessment research provider about the opportunities and challenges of the CPTPP. She also mentioned that Charoen Pokphand Group is another third-party researcher.

It is not clear whether the government itself has carried out research on this issue or made it available. The panelists of the public hearing disproportionately comprised representatives from the private sector and government agencies, while no representatives from civil-society organizations were given the opportunity to present their views.

“It is alarming to note that all the ‘impact assessments’ of CPTPP have been conducted by large corporations, and it makes quite clear that for Thailand to join CPTPP, only big businesses and corporations will benefit from this trade agreement,” said Matcha Phorn-in, president of the Thai Association of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD).

A great number of local farmers who attended the public hearings have repeatedly expressed concerns regarding farmers’ access to seeds and their right to exchange and collect seeds for community use

“It will further corporate monopolies in agriculture and marginalize women, peasants and the majority of people. For this reason we, the women’s groups, labor-rights groups, and civil society, reject the UPOV 1991 as well as the CPTPP.” UPOV is the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants.

A great number of local farmers from the northern Thai provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lamphun and Lampang who attended the public hearings have repeatedly expressed concerns regarding farmers’ access to seeds and their right to exchange and collect seeds for community use. Various farmers’ groups have also raised concerns regarding dumping of agricultural products from other countries.

In response, Thidakun Saen-udom, director of the Plant Variety Protection Office, Department of Agriculture, claimed that farmers would still have the right to collect seeds, as long as they are not under patent from seed companies.

Sugarnta Sukpaita, a labor-rights activist who attended the hearing, said: “I feel that this public hearing is not about hearing the people’s voices and concerns, but more like a forum to defend and propagate how great CPTPP is.

“CPTPP will ultimately kill small-scale farmers and only support those who have big capital who will also exploit the workers.”

Another APWLD representative said the CPTPP was all about amplifying the power of corporations to set trade rules that would negatively affect domestic policies to endorse corporate governance.

“When questions were asked about people’s access to seeds, food sovereignty or access to medicine, the responses from the government representatives were identical: As [long] as they are not patented everything will be OK,” she said.

“It is such a disrespectful and disguised response when it is so clear that the CPTPP is [about] strengthened intellectual property to put profit over people’s lives. CPTPP is not about generating the best welfare for the people as the government has come here and claimed.”

In July, the Thai government led by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusriphitak committed the country to joining the CPTPP after receiving support from Japan, saying that the trade pact would boost competitiveness for Thai entrepreneurs.

Soon after, the Department of Trade Negotiations announced public hearings in five provinces. Public hearings in Chonburi and Chiang Mai have been held and hearings in Songkhla, Bangkok and Khon Kaen are to take place on September 13, 16 and 26 respectively.

In March, the APWLD issued a statement, along with more than 50 feminist allies from 10 of the 11 TPP countries, opposing this mega free-trade agreement, as it would only put power and privilege into the hands of large multinational corporations and the wealthiest few.

The CPTPP would require countries to treat foreign companies in the same way they treat local ones, pushing women, who comprise the majority of small-scale, subsistence farmers, to compete against huge agribusinesses. The tightened intellectual-property rights would prohibit seed sharing among farmers, impacting women who are the custodians of seeds, forcing them out of their farms and the local economy.

The APWLD will continue to monitor the scheduled public hearings and work with other social-justice and people’s movements to stop Thailand from joining the CPTPP against people’s will.

Suluck Lamubol

Suluck "Fai" Lamubol works for the Labor and Migration Program of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. APWLD is a network of feminist organizations and grassroots activists in the Asia-Pacific region working toward women's rights. Previously, Fai worked as a journalist for local Thai media and covered human rights, Thai current affairs and women's issues.