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Harper seeks ‘free trade’ deal with military rulers of Thailand

Our trading partners in Thailand. Photo by Rungroj Yongrit/ EPA.

Our trading partners in Thailand. Photo by Rungroj Yongrit/ EPA.

This past May, the Royal Thai Armed Forces, led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha, seized power in a coup d’état. The military dissolved the elected government and Senate, General Prayuth became the prime minister, the judicial branch was ordered to operate under the government’s directives, and political gatherings were banned.

Even Canada’s foreign minister John Baird stated, “This [coup] violates Thailand’s democratic principles and stands in stark contrast to the Army’s earlier assurances that its role would be limited to securing public order. We hope and expect the Thai military will return Thailand to civilian rule as soon as possible, respect democratic processes and the rule of law, ensure freedom of expression and assembly, and guarantee due process for those who have been detained.”

And less than two weeks ago, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director said that Thailand’s military authorities must halt the alarming deterioration in respect for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including by ending the unprecedented use of the lèse-majesté law which bans criticism of the royal family.

But despite all this, the Harper government is committed to pursuing a free trade agreement with Thailand.

The Globe and Mail reports, “The Canadian government is exploring the idea of free trade with Thailand despite internal warnings from Foreign Affairs officials that Ottawa should hold back while the Asian country remains under control of a military junta, documents say. …The Foreign Affairs department wrote both [Baird and trade minister Ed Fast] in October ‘recommending against finalization of free trade agreement exploratory discussions or the launch of FTA negotiations in the absence of a democratically elected government’…. [But] on December 5, officials were informed that the office of the Minister of International Trade did not agree with officials’ recommendations and asked that the free trade agreement exploratory process be completed by the summer of 2015.”

This perhaps should come as no surprise.

In November 2012, CBC reported on a confidential government document that prioritizes forging new trade deals and business opportunities even where there are human rights abuses. The government document says, “To succeed we will need to pursue political relationships in tandem with economic interests even where political interests or values may not align.”

That same month, it was revealed that the Harper government was objecting to the inclusion of language regarding respect for human rights in the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA), a framework agreement to accompany the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). That deal would reportedly let either side (Canada or the European Union) suspend ‘trade benefits’ if the other was found to be violating human rights.

And by November 2013, the Globe and Mail had reported on the government’s foreign policy Global Markets Action Plan. That paper stated, “All diplomatic assets of the Government of Canada will be marshalled on behalf of the private sector” to open new markets to Canadian goods and services.

So it appears for the Harper government that ‘free trade’ trumps human rights.

The Council of Canadians calls on the Harper government to stand with the people of Thailand, respect human rights, prioritize human rights over ‘free trade’ deals, and to not pursue ‘free trade’ exploratory discussions with the military government in Thailand.