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FTA teams to take cautious approach

The Nation, Bangkok

FTA teams to take cautious approach

29 April 2004

By Benjaprut Akkarasriprapai

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has decided not to rush into free
trade agreements (FTAs) due to the rise of strong opposition, a trade
negotiator said yesterday.

"The protests that began last October have borne fruit as the government
has decided to slow down the process of signing FTAs," said Narongchai
Akrasanee, chairman of the committee studying the impact of free trade

Local farmers have been complaining about the flood of cheap Chinese
fruits and vegetables following the start of the Sino-Thai FTA last

The country ran a Bt1.56-billion trade surplus with China between
October and February, according to Commerce Ministry statistics, but
Narongchai said that was not conclusive proof that Thai- land had
benefited from the freeing up of trade in fresh produce.

"The impact from the hasty decision to open the market in winter was a
problem of timing," he said.

If the FTA had begun in February, Thailand would have gained more, as
that is when its fruits and vegetables are harvested.

The government has fortified its negotiating posture for future FTAs by
forming a team for each trade partner.

Nitya Pibulsonggram, adviser to the foreign minister, heads the US
negotiating team, while Pisan Manawapat, director-general of the
International Economic Affairs Department, is in charge of talks with
Japan. Sompol Kietphaibool, an adviser to the finance minister, is
responsible for China.

"The modality of FTA talks of Thailand is taking shape," Narongchai said.

Although heaps of criticism have been laid on this administration for
jumping blindly into free trade pacts, Narongchai said the country needs
time to adjust and improve its economy.

"I think FTAs are a good idea in the sense that they can upgrade the
production standards and enhance the competitiveness of each industry,
which sometimes needs external forces to push the process forward," he

As for the fear that Thailand would lose rather than gain if the
government wants to seal trade deals quickly without adequate study of
all the repercussions, especially with heavyweights like the United
States, Narongchai said each industry should be developed to cope with
the rapid changes in trade patterns.