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Landmark deal signed - Thaksin, Howard praise FTA accord

Bangkok Post

6 July 2004

Landmark deal signed

Thaksin, Howard praise FTA accord

Canberra, AP, Bangkok Post

Australia and Thailand yesterday signed a landmark free trade deal heralded as an important step towards Australia and New Zealand’s inclusion in a Southeast Asian free trade zone.

Following the signing of the deal _ Australia’s second with a member of Asean after Singapore _ Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said he looked forward to discussing future economic ties at an Asean summit in November to which Australia and New Zealand have been invited.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nation’s 10 countries already have their own Asean Free Trade Area (Afta), while Australia and New Zealand’s economies are linked to one another by the Closer Economic Relations (CER) bilateral free trade deal.

``This summit will further reinforce the strategic cooperation between Asean and Australia,’’ Mr Thaksin said in a speech at Parliament House.

He said the Australia-Thailand deal created opportunities for Australia beyond Thailand because of flow-on from Bangkok’s free trade deals with countries including China and India.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard welcomed Thailand’s first free trade agreement with a developed country.

Under the deal, which focuses on increasing market access, tariffs will be eliminated from more than 5,000 items, or 83% of Australia’s imports from Thailand, including fruit, vegetables and automobiles. Thailand will wipe out tariffs on 50% of the goods it imports from Australia, including fuels and chemical products, when the agreement comes into force on January 1 next year.

Opponents in Bangkok have demanded an investigation into the deal, claiming it will benefit the business interests of Mr Thaksin’s telecommunications business.

The lobby group Campaign for Media Reform said Mr Thaksin’s commercial interests in the satellite and communications industry would especially benefit from greater market access to Australia.

The group also demanded a public referendum on Tafta, which has yet to be endorsed by the parliament of either country.

Dumrong Kasemset, Shin Satellite’s chief executive, yesterday dismissed the allegation saying his company has no further advantage to be gained since it entered the Australian market seven years ago.

He told the Bangkok Post his company has been providing television broadcasting services from its Thaicom 3 satellite since 1997.

Mr Howard assured that benefits are to be equally gained by both sides. Canberra believes the pact will boost the Australian economy by at least A$3 billion (84 billion baht).

Australia’s export gains next year from the pact should be about A$275 million (7.7 billion baht), Thai authorities have said.

Last year, trade between Thailand and Australia totalled A$5.4 billion (151.2 billion baht). Thailand has a trade surplus with Australia of about A$1 billion (28 billion baht) a year.

After visiting Canberra, Mr Thaksin was to fly yesterday to Melbourne to open an exhibition of Thai produce today, before flying to New Zealand.