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FTA BACKLASH: Trade talk details to be revealed

The Nation, Bangkok

FTA BACKLASH: Trade talk details to be revealed

July 20 2004

By Benjaprut Akkarasriprapai

Ministry will also set up panel to monitor impacts

Criticism of the free-trade agreement signed with Australia earlier this month has prompted the Commerce Ministry to set up a committee to monitor impacts.

Under the plan, the ministry will also establish a call centre and hold a workshop to study the effects of the trade pact with Australia and a pending agreement with New Zealand to ensure the Kingdom benefits.

The ministry said it was taking the action to shed light on the Australian trade agreement and future trade negotiations with other countries.

"We are reforming the system of providing information on [FTA] negotiations in order to provide more transparency to the public," Permanent Secretary for Commerce Karun Kittisataporn said.

Negotiators would have to consult with the public and business sectors affected by free-trade agreements, before they head to trade talks again, Karun said, such as dairy farmers and agricultural businesses. They would also have to inform the public of the trade negotiations.

The new committee on the Australian FTA will include Yanyong Phuangrat, deputy permanent secretary of the Commerce Ministry; Apiradi Tantraporn, director-general of the Trade Negotiations Department; Chantra Purnariksha, director-general of the Department of Export Promotion; Rachane Potjanasuntorn, director-general of the Department of Foreign Trade.

The committee, headed by Karun, would be responsible for improving the exchange of information with the public.

A team would also be assembled to study the impact of FTAs after they are implemented. Karun said he also would meet with the Ministry of Industry and Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives to find the most effective way to improve Thai businesses.

"FTAs are a wake-up call for Thai business to reconstruct the quality of production in both the agricultural and industrial sectors. The Thailand-Australia FTA (TAFTA) should be a very profitable agreement and we want to make it more effective for our businesspeople," Karun said.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra signed the agreement with Australia on July 5. The pact increases access to the Australian market for 5,000 Thai products, including automobiles and parts, fruits and vegetables, electronics equipment, canned food and jewellery.

It also should make it easier for Thai restaurants and spas to open in Australia. However, Thai dairy and cattle farmers have complained that they will lose money due to the FTA.

"There are 10 Thai agricultural products - namely durian, mangosteen, longan, lychee, pineapple, mango, pomelo, shrimp, chicken and fancy fish - which get priority in import risk analysis from Australia. The analysis will be performed by experts and would look to solve problems within two years. That will benefit our exports," he said.

Karun said the agreement includes provisions for triggering tariffs to protect local dairy businesses. Currently the tariff on the first 776 tonnes of Australian beef imported annually is 51 per cent, which will be reduced to 40 per cent next year and on down to zero in the next 15 years under the pact. If the imports exceed 776 tonnes, a higher tariff would be applied to the excess.