By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
Poor farmers and unskilled labourers would feel a negative impact and no benefits from the 2015 launch of the Asean Economic Community (AEC), a forum of non-governmental organisations said yesterday.
Thailand was set to open its borders to almost all farming products from Asean members, meaning its major products such as rice would no longer be competitive, said Witoon Lianchamroon, director of BioThai.
Thailand’s standing as a regional powerhouse in rice production was misunderstood, he said. Under the AEC, Thai farmers would get hurt in the long run as their production costs were increasing while yield was reducing, he said.
Thailand has the region’s highest production cost but near lowest productivity, he said. Vietnam has the region’s highest yield, of 862.4 kilograms per rai, against Thailand’s 448kg per rai, he said. Myanmar’s 427.2kg per rai is the region’s lowest.
Asean members Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have maintained high import tariffs for rice of 25, 20 and 40 per cent respectively ahead of 2015, he said.
Thailand’s cassava production also was badly placed, with a yield of 2 tonnes per rai against Cambodia’s 5 tonnes, said Witoon, adding that Thai farmers were facing difficulty in competing with the lower-cost produce from other Asean countries.
Thailand’s unskilled labourers would also face difficulty as cross-regional movement of their counterparts from other Asean members increased over the next three years, said Pranom Somwong of Asean Watch.
Asean members have agreed to allow skilled workers – doctors, dentists, nurses, engineers, architects, accountants and surveyors – free movement by 2015.
The group, however, has no agreement for movement of the huge number of unskilled workers in the region, she said.
Though Asean has issued a declaration to protect and promote the rights of migrant workers, it only covered registered migrant workers, while ignoring the millions of undocumented workers, she said.
Asean members have been reluctant to receive unskilled migrant labourers despite demand for them. Thailand has only 851,830 registered migrant workers – from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar – with more than 1.5 million of them working here undocumented and thus lacking proper protection for their rights and lives, she said.
Pranom urged Asean to pay more attention to undocumented and unskilled labourers as the group steered toward 2015 integration in the AEC.