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FTA talks advance; Kraisak may sue

Bangkok Post

FTA talks advance; Kraisak may sue

10 January 2006

(TNA - Agencies) Thai and US negotiators working on the two countries’ bilateral Free Trade Area (FTA) agreement have reached a tentative agreement on tariff cuts for over 204 categories of industrial goods, a senior Thai official announced here on Tuesday.

On the sidelines, the head of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs confirmed this afternoon the committee will sue the government in the Constitutional Court for failing to bring details of the talks for discussion in the House of Representatives.

Amid protests from civil society organisations calling for an end to the talks, Apiradis Tantraporn, director-general of the Commerce Ministry’s Trade Negotiations Department, announced the first achievement from this sixth round of talks.

The US has agreed to reduce tariffs equivalent to a 78 per cent cut of overall tariffs, worth over US$933 million (about Bt38.3 billion) annually on 204 items of industrial goods.

In exchange, Thailand agreed to a 75 per cent cut in the value of overall tariffs. The two countries agreed to reduce tariffs to zero for electrical goods, electronic products, ceramics, plastics and jewelry.

There is also progress regarding tariff reduction for ’sensitive goods,’ according to Mrs. Apiradi. Thailand and the US agreed to the targets of reducing the items in the sensitive list from 6.9 per cent of all types of goods to 2.7 per cent; and the list of ’most sensitive goods,’ from the current 4.9 per cent to 3.1 per cent of all kinds of goods under the FTA pact.

The Director-General added that the two sides have made efforts to move as many types of goods as possible to the zero tariff target, especially those slated for gradual tariff reduction over five years.

However, there is no such progress when it comes to goods classified for gradual tariff reductions over the next ten years.

In any case, the two sides will continue to negotiate and they plan to exchange lists of goods designated for "pilot tariff reduction" scheme on Feb 4.

Mrs. Apiradi said tariff reduction between the two countries will be effective only after the agreement goes through the legislative process and parliamentary endorsement in both countries.

The agenda of the Thai-US FTA talks today dealt with public investment, trade in services, labour and environmental standards, rules of origin and intellectual property rights.

Meanwhile, Senator Kraisak Choonhavan said chief US negotiators had agreed to meet Thai senators and members of parliament tomorrow morning at 10, and to brief them on details of the negotiations. Sen Kraisak said he would inform the US representatives it would contradict the Thai constitution if the Thai government failed to bring all details of the FTA negotiations for debate in the Lower House.

The sixth round of talks on the Thai-US FTA began Monday at two hotels in Chiang Mai and are to end on Friday. The Tuesday talks focussed on seven issues including environment, labour, intellectual property, trade and investment.

As the talks proceeded, a large group of demonstrators opposing the proposed FTA pact demonstrated outside. Some vowed to disrupt the talks, and broke through police lines briefly, before being pushed back in minor but tense scuffling.

The protesters demanded the Thai government scrap the negotiations on three major issues - including intellectual property, especially drug patents, free trade and investment in agriculture, and basic infrastructure. Protesters claimed claimed any agreement on these issues would cause severe negative consequences to the majority of the Thai people.