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Bilateral FTA talks with Thailand likely

Dawn, Pakistan

Bilateral FTA talks with Thailand likely

By Mubarak Zeb Khan

22 August 2013

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Thailand on Wednesday agreed to start formal talks on striking a deal on a free trade agreement (FTA) to double the bilateral trade from $1 billion to $2bn until 2015.

Both the sides would soon seek an early approval from their respective bodies (Parliament or Cabinet) to launch the talks on FTA,” a senior official of the Commerce Ministry told Dawn.

The agreement was reached in the first meeting of the Joint Trade Committee (JTC) held here. The JTC was constituted on Aug 20, 2013 at the sideline of the Thai Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra’s visit to Pakistan.

As both the sides did not agree on a concrete timeline on the start of talks on FTA and its possible conclusion deadline, the media briefing on the outcome of the JTC was cancelled at 11th hour.

The official said that the proposed FTA would be signed at the high level official contact in future.

It took more than six years for Bangkok and Islamabad to take this decision for starting talks on the much-awaited FTA between the two countries.

In 2005, both the countries had constituted a Joint Study Group on Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Both the sides have completed the joint study with positive recommendations.

Based on the findings of the study, in September 2007 it was recommended that negotiations would be started on technical level for providing market access to each other’s products under a preferential arrangement. Since then, the issue was placed in the back-burner until 2010 when both the countries started work on draft memorandum of understanding (MoU) for formation of a JTC, to be headed by commerce ministers of the two countries.

Even the finalisation of the MoU took both countries more than three years.

On Wednesday’s meeting, both the sides, however, agreed to extend technical cooperation on gems and jewelary and food processing sectors.

Thailand specialises in Halal food trade and the country has emerged as one of the main exporters of Halal products to the world market.

Bangkok is looking for exploring possibilities for a joint venture or as a sole player for exporting Halal food through Pakistan to the Middle East and the Central Asian Republics.

International Halal food is estimated at $180bn.

Thailand’s main exportable items to Pakistan include motorcars, auto parts and accessories, chemical products and polymers. The trade is highly in favour of Thailand.

Thailand represents a market of about 66.7 million people and is an important hub of trade and investment in South-East Asian region.

Its total imports in 2012 stood at $213.7bn. Pakistan’s share in it is negligible.