The Nation | February 5, 2009
FTA talks with the US to be revived
By Petchanet Pratruangkrai
New leadership, mutual concern over economic slump cited
Thailand and the United States will resume free-trade agreement talks after a three-year suspension of negotiations, as concerns over slumping economic growth affect the two nations’ overall trading prospects.
The countries have agreed to revive the negotiation process once their new administrations have fully settled into office, Deputy Commerce Minister Alongkorn Ponlaboot said yesterday.
Alongkorn said the move was aimed at maintaining Thailand’s export growth amid a sharp slowdown in most countries’ economies, with the US being one of the Kingdom’s major export markets.
Reaching agreement on an FTA with the US would not only help maintain export growth to the US, but also increase bilateral cooperation on investment and services.
Alongkorn is scheduled to lead a team of officials to Washington early next month to officially announce the resumption of FTA talks, and to attempt to convince the US administration to upgrade Thailand’s trade status.
He said democracy had been reinstated and Thailand was ready for talks.
"We cannot refuse to liberalise, and an FTA is one of the most effective engines in boosting growth for the country," he added.
FTA discussions between Bangkok and Washington continued for seven rounds before the US walked away from the negotiating table following the September 2006 coup.
The talks, which started in June 2004, encompassed 22 issues covering trade in goods and services, plus investment.
However, the gap between the two countries’ development - in particular on the liberalisation of the service sector and intellectual-property protection - created many obstacles and led to local protests about parts of the potential agreement.
Alongkorn said the government would seek a balanced outcome that benefited both sides, especially on sensitive issues such as intellectual property and service-sector liberalisation.
Any products or sectors that Thailand does not agree to include in the pact will be protected under sensitive lists, with an appropriate time stipulated for adjustment, he added.
The March mission is also aimed at increasing cooperation between the two countries on the protection of intellectual property rights, and to convince the US to upgrade Thailand’s trade status, so that it can receive more Generalised System of Privileges (GSP) benefits for its exports to the US, the deputy minister said.
Alongkorn said he would try to convince the new US trade representative to upgrade the Kingdom’s trade status from ’Priority Watch List’ to ’Watch List’. This would ensure that Thailand gained more GSP privileges for up to 3,400 items.
The US will announce its revision of the annual National Trade Estimate - which contains
the status of trading partners - in April.
Asked if the Buy American Act of the US would create barriers for Thai exports to the US, Alongkorn said it was normal for each country to increase consumer awareness about buying locally made goods during times of economic crisis.
However, to ensure export growth, the ministry has ordered the Foreign Trade Department and the Kingdom’s commercial representative in the US to closely monitor any non-tariff barriers that could obstruct Thai exports.
The ministry expects Thai exports to the US will rise by 2 per cent this year from last year’s US$20.2 billion (Bt705 billion).