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Government to consider proposed points of opponents of Thai-US FTA

MCOT News, Thailand

Government to consider proposed points of opponents of Thai-US FTA

10 January 2006

LOEI, Jan 10 (TNA) - The Thai government will go ahead with its move to negotiate and conclude a bilateral free trade area (FTA) agreement with the United States, but will take proposed points raised by opponents of the planned Thai-US FTA into consideration, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said on Tuesday.

The prime minister told journalists before an official cabinet meeting in this northeastern province of Loei that the proposed Thai-US FTA pact would be concluded with a win-win situation, reiterating that Thailand would not be put at the disadvantage.

The Thai leader promised, however, that the government would take proposed points raised by the opponents into account.

"Actually, the opposition has helped boost Thailand’s bargaining power at the ongoing negotiations with the US," he noted.

On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Somkid Jatusripitak also reiterated that negotiations for establishment of the planned Thai-US FTA would be made with caution because foreign potential partners are watching a final result.

Speaking of the 6th round of the negotiations being held at the Sheraton Hotel in Thailand’s northern resort province of Chieng Mai from January 9-13 amid a rally of thousands of protestors in front of the venue, Mr. Somkid said the prime minister had told Nittaya Pibulsongkram, head of the Thai negotiation team, to heed opinions and suggestions of the opponents and civil groups.

The premier had also instructed the provincial governor to provide a place for the opponents and try to keep order to ensure the negotiations proceeds smoothly.

As well, the head of the Thai negotiation team had been told to find an opportunity to discuss with the House and Senate Economic Commissions to exchange views and to coordinate with the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) for organizing of a public hearing to listen to people’s opinions on pros and cons of the planned Thai-US FTA.

Dr. Somkid conceded the negotiations for the planned FTA with the US are more difficult than those with other countries held in the past.

Many countries had kept a watch on whether the negotiations would be successful or not before deciding to begin talking with Thailand on their own FTAs as planned, he noted.

He said the Thai government wants to see the successful end of the negotiations with Washington by the end of this year as earlier expected by US President George W. Bush.

However, he said, the government would not back down to any proposals that put the country at the disadvantage.

The Thai negotiation team would attempt to minimize any possible adverse effects on the Thai economy from the proposed Thai-US FTA accord.

Meanwhile, a leading academic has called for the government to suspend or defer the Thai-US FTA negotiations over the next couple of years until sectors in Thailand can adjust themselves to cope with American rivals.

The leading academic, Mr. Ath Pisalvanitch, who heads the Centre for International Trade Study of Thai Chamber of Commerce University, noted that all sectors in Thailand are not ready for the opening up of the planned Thai-US FTA.

"Even Thailand’s agricultural sector which is considered mostly ready now for the planned Thai-US FTA, still needs some more time to improve quality, productivity and standard of Thai farm products; while the banking sector is partly ready and the service sector is not ready at all in terms of developed database, personnel, capital and advanced technology. If the planned Thai-US FTA pact is concluded at the moment, Thailand’s insurance businesses will be mostly affected," he pointed out.

Mr. Ath called for the government to take overall impacts on the Thai economy caused by the planned FTA into consideration, rather than pinning on a hope that the proposed bilateral FTA accord with the US will boost Thailand’s trade surplus with the US, saying without the planned FTA, Thailand has already gained a trade surplus of around Bt300 billion annually with the US.

He also urged the government to unveil anticipated pros and cons of the planned FTA to the general public and to have a strong stance not to be pressed by the US to continue the negotiations.