Bangkok Post | 20 April 2006
Americans offer to help with talks
American businesses have offered help in lobbying the US Congress to allow talks on the Thai-US free-trade agreement to move forward, according to the Thai Chamber of Commerce. Judy Benn, a director of the US Chamber of Commerce, recently met with members of the Thai Chamber of Commerce to find out if Thai businessmen would like to go ahead with the FTA, which has been suspended due to Thailand’s political problems.
Earlier, leaders in Thailand and the US pledged to conclude negotiations this year. Trade promotion authority (TPA) held by US president George W. Bush is due to expire in mid-2007.
The TPA allows the US president to negotiate trade agreements with other countries in good faith without fear of further congressional intervention because future international trade agreements will be subject to an up-or-down vote, but not amendments, in Congress.
Analysts say a failure to wrap up the Thai-US trade talks before the expiration of the TPA would significantly complicate the chances of the deal being passed before the US Congress.
US businesses operating in Thailand are eager to have the FTA move forward. The new treaty will also restore privileges under the recently expired Treaty of Amity of Economic Relations.
Frances Zwenig, counselor for Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam Affairs of the US-Asean Business Council, said the free trade pact would boost US investment in Thailand, in particular from multinationals like General Electric, Time Warners, Chevron, New York Life and FedEx.
She warned that delays would only hurt the country’s economy.
’’The prolonged delay to the negotiations will discourage world-class companies from opting [to invest in] Thailand,’’ Ms Zwenig said.
She also warned that if the talks were prolonged, these multinationals might shift their funds to China instead.
According to Wirachai Wongbunsin, a director of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the FTA would allow US firms to enjoy ’’national treatment’’ status within the country, with the same operating privileges as local firms.
But Thai businessmen remain concerned about terms set under the FTA, Mr Wirachai said.
US negotiators have called on Thailand to liberalise the services sector, including financial services.
Thai industries such as footwear, canned tuna and vehicles, meanwhile, would enjoy only limited benefits under the FTA, with liberalisation phased over a 15 to 20 year period.
’’[The lengthy protection period] makes me curious about who the American government wants to protect. Do they want to protect American investors in Vietnam and China?,’’ Mr Wirachai said.
Washington should review its proposals to strengthen benefits offered to Thailand once the talks resume, he said.
Earlier this week, caretaker deputy prime minister Somkid Jatusripitak said the country would suspend bilateral FTA talks with the US until the new government was formed.