Bangkok Post | 12 February 2008
Canberra wants services sector opened
Australia says pact a boon for Thailand
The Australian government will negotiate with Thailand for greater opening of the services sector this year, according to ambassador William Paterson.
The Thailand-Australia Free Trade Agreement (Tafta), which took effect at the beginning of 2005, allows both countries to discuss greater participation in the services sector within three years.
But talks have not taken place because of political uncertainties and negative sentiment about liberalisation during the period, Mr Paterson said.
’’We see the FTA as a living agreement, not a static one, to be expanded to benefit both countries more,’’ Mr Paterson said, adding that industries to be considered for inclusion could include banking, insurance, educational, legal and accounting services.
Currently, there are two Australia-based insurance firm operating through joint venture with local firms, while Macquarie who has a full service brokerage with TMB Bank. Additionally, the Australian government will negotiate for lower tariffs under Tafta for horticultural products including kiwi fruit and grapes, agricultural and dairy products.
’’Thailand’s early harvest agreement with China, as part of the China-Asean FTA negotiation, and New Zealand’s FTA with Thailand, both offer China and New Zealand better access for some products than Tafta does for Australia,’’ he said.
’’We seek at least equivalent treatment to Thailand’s other FTA partners like New Zealand and China.’’
Mr Paterson said Thailand had benefited from Tafta in terms of trade, by posting a $2-billion surplus last year and $1.8 billion in 2006.
Key exports to Australia utilising Tafta include automobiles and electronics.
’’Many Thais do not seem to understand that Thailand has been the big beneficiary from Tafta, still believing that ’big’ Australia is somehow taking advantage of ’poor’ Thailand. The statistics simply prove this is wrong,’’ Mr Paterson said.
’’Australian firms do not dominate any business in Thailand. In the dairy section of supermarket, there are other products from European countries, like yoghurt, cheese, ice cream and skimmed milk powder.’’
Mr Paterson said Australia also wanted to see more transparent and simplified mining regulations.
’’We would like to see some mining legislation. There is real prospect of gold mining in this country. And many Australian miners are interested in coming here,’’ he said.
Mr Paterson also said the new government should have a ’’pro-business’’ strategy in promoting economic growth.
The government, he said, should abandon plans by its predecessor to amend the Foreign Business Act, Retail Trade Act and Foreign Employment Act.