The biggest problem in Thailand now is that real issues can get easily overshadowed and overwhelmed by what has become a complete power play, and then forgotten or cast aside by everyone who matters.
A land reform proposal submitted by the Anand Panyarachun committee with little political fanfare stands to test this malaise. We will know in the next few days if the proposal, which is worth serious attention by all, will be spurned by movements that want the prime minister to leave immediately but dont quite know why, and by a government that is trying to hang on but doesnt quite know how.
The red shirts violent campaign last year, whether it was a real grass-roots uprising as the movement claims or a Thaksin Shinawatra-sponsored agitation as alleged by the Democrat government, has brought to light the issue of economic inequality in Thailand. This forced the government, academics and civil society to look back on long-forgotten problems, one of which is the poverty associated with being landless. The embattled Abhisit government promised to act, and the Anand committee was formed.
Dr. Ravi Ratnayake, Director of the Trade and Investment Division of ESCAP, said that promoting agricultural trade in the Asia-Pacific region is important for addressing poverty in Asia and the Pacific, where over 70 percent of the poor live in rural areas and have agriculture as their main livelihood.
With rising populations and the emergence of relatively affluent population segments seeking dietary diversity, the demand for food products in general, and high-value processed food in particular, has been rising. He noted there is a great potential for agricultural exports in the region.
Analyzing constraints to agricultural exports, senior policy makers, academics, exporters, logistics providers, and UN and Asian Development Bank (ADB) experts at the High-level Consultation on Facilitating Agricultural Trade in Asia and the Pacific organized in Bangkok by ESCAP this week noted that the rapid emergence of stringent private standards for food products in the West has become a major challenge. There are significant gaps in quality infrastructure and technical know-how that prevent developing countries to meet these standards. They emphasized the need for regional cooperation in building capacity and developing mechanisms for accreditation of testing facilities.