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Food producers to act on US downgrade

Manufacturers may get 'third party' to do labour checks; will seek US advice

Food manufacturers are preparing to work with American importers and a third party like the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to facilitate an audit or traceable inspections of food plants to make the point that Thais treat their workers well.

In response to the US downgrade of Thailand as among the world's worst at countering human trafficking, the Thai Frozen Foods Association will this week fly to the US for a meeting with importers and super stores to convince them to continue importing Thai products.

Poj Aramwattananont, president of the association, said that food manufacturers are highly alert to the US report on labour. The association, as a representative of the Thai seafood manufacturers and fishery industries, will soon meet with the National Fisheries Institutes (NFI) of the US to try to ensure that they will continue to have high confidence in importing food from Thailand.

"The US Trafficking in Persons Report [TIP] has created a bad reputation for Thai food industries," Poj said. "So, the association and involved organisations need to urgently solve the problem. Exports are not yet impacted as Thai enterprises have always worked on labour protection and addressed the concerns of our trading partners."

He said he and the association's members would spend a week in the US for a meeting with the NFI and importers such as Walmart and other modern traders so that they continue to buy Thai food products.

Teams will head to the US

Poj also explained that normally Thai exporters and importers agree on a system that is "traceable". Importers have sent teams to inspect Thai plants regularly. However, in this difficult period, he felt a third party was needed to reaffirm confidence in Thai plants and the fisheries industry - from upstream to downstream production.

According to the association, the US is one of Thailand's major seafood and frozen foods importers, particularly Thai shrimp and tuna.

Shrimp exports to the US account for about 38 per cent of total export value while tuna exports to the US account for 20 per cent.

Besides private enterprises who have moved on the labour issue, the Commerce Ministry has instructed the Thai Trade Representative in Washington DC to increase understanding among American importers and government agencies in a bid to prevent any impact on Thai trade with the US.

Srirat Rastapana, permanent secretary at the ministry, said that the American NFI has insisted on continuing trade with Thailand.

The NFI has a good understanding of the Thai shrimp industry. It has said that there are labour problems in only some parts of the shrimp industry, which the Thai government needs to solve. The NFI also insisted that it would not do business or import products from plants that have low labour protection and safety standards.

To prevent any impact on Thai trading, the ministry and other involved ministries will soon send a team to the US for a meeting with government agencies, private enterprises, and directly with American consumers in various states of the US to send a clear message on Thai labour protection measures.

Asked whether there were concerns about losing the Generalised System of Preference, Srirat said the human-trafficking report would not affect the Thai GSP because under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act 2000, the US administration could not withdraw trade privileges or benefits related to trading issues of trading partner countries.

In the near future, the ministry will also meet with involved private enterprises to outline long-term plans for increasing efficiency on labour protection.


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