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Cablegate: Ambassador Meets with Agriculture Minister

VZCZCXRO2892
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHBK #2551 2790533
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 060533Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8527
INFO RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI IMMEDIATE 7108

UNCLAS BANGKOK 002551

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, EEB/TPP
STATE PASS TO USTR FOR BWEISEL, DBISBEE, BKLEIN
COMMERCE FOR EAP/MAC/OKSA FOR JKELLY
USDA FOR FAS/OCRA/PETLOCK AND USDA FOR FAS/OSTA/BEAN

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: ECON EAGR ETRD PREL TH
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR MEETS WITH AGRICULTURE MINISTER

1. (U) Summary: The Ambassador called on Theera Wongsamut, the
Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, on October 2 to describe
the objectives of a forthcoming seminar focusing on biotechnology
and risk communications. The Ambassador also encouraged the
Ministry's Department of Livestock Development (DLD) to improve
communications with international trading partners via WTO
mechanisms and suggested renewed engagement on a number of
long-standing U.S. proposals in the animal health area, including
pork. End Summary.

2. (U) Ambassador John, accompanied by FAS and APHIS staff, called
on Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives Theera Wongsamut on
October 2 to provide details about a October 5-6 seminar focused on
risk communications and biotechnology. The seminar was organized by
USDA and the State Department in cooperation with the Thai Food
Science and Technology Association and the National Center for
Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC). The Ambassador
explained that the seminar would promote APEC goals related to
agricultural biotechnology and developing tools to assist APEC
economy government officials in creating, implementing, and
communicating science-based policies. (Note: The Ambassador
delivered welcoming remarks as part of the public portion of the
event on October 5. End Note.)

3. (U) The Minister spoke about Thailand's ongoing inability to
commercialize agricultural biotechnology. He noted Thailand's
regulatory system presently only provided for field testing and
reiterated concerns that Thailand's international customers were
opposed to Thai products employing the technology. The Minister
recognized that improved risk communications were useful and
expressed appreciation for the efforts being made in this area.

4. (U) Minister Theera expressed gratitude about continued movements
under the APHIS preclearance program for Thai fruit exports to the
US. Approved fruits include, litchi, longan, mango, mangosteen,
pineapple, and rambutan. Thailand has a pending request to export
dragonfruit, pumpkin, cassava, and guava and is expected to provide
the information necessary to permit review of this request to APHIS
soon.

5. (SBU) While highlighting the Ministry's DLD as an effective
partner with USDA/APHIS on highly pathogenic avian influenza (and
other animal diseases) in Thailand and neighboring countries, the
Ambassador raised concern about technical cooperation on bilateral
issues. The Ambassador urged DLD to notify significant changes in
its regulations (for example, product suspension) via established
WTO processes. He also explained that USDA also had a number of
pending proposals to update existing animal product protocols to
ensure WTO consistency, but that there had been minimal official
feedback from DLD. As an example, the Ambassador pointed out that
recent DLD pork restrictions due to H1N1 were directly contrary to
the guidance of the international standards setting organizations,
and urged renewed and productive engagement.

6. (SBU) Minister Theera outlined recent Thai government attempts to
engage USDA on accreditation of Thai certification bodies and issues
of equivalence for Thai organic programs. He stated the Ministry
understood the mechanisms under USDA authorities but had not yet
found a way forward to obtain access for its organic products.

7. (SBU) Comment: The discussion was a friendly review of a number
of the bilateral agricultural concerns, with both sides expressing
appreciation for the existing strong trading relationship and
agreeing to engage productively on the problem areas. USDA is
engaging the new Director General of DLD on its outstanding requests
as part of its follow-up to the concerns raised. End Comment.

8. (SBU) Bio Notes: Theera Wongsamut became the Minister of
Agriculture and Cooperatives in late 2008, after a 30-plus year
career as an irrigation engineer in the Ministry's Royal Irrigation
Department (RID). Before being appointed Minister, Theera served as
the Director General of RID, the Inspector General of the Ministry,
and a Deputy Permanent Secretary. Minister Theera has a close
relationship with Banharn Silpa-acha, the former Chart Thai Pattana
Party Leader -- a friendship that led to his appointment as
Agriculture Minister in the Abhisit coalition. Theera is the least
wealthy of Abhisit's cabinet members, declaring assets of 5.5
million baht (approximately $160,000) in the mandatory
anti-corruption reporting requirements. Theera was born on December
15, 1948, in Nakhon Sri Thammarat, and completed his education in
engineering at Kasetsart University.

JOHN

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