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Minister: FTA a long way off

Bangkok Post

Minister: FTA a long way off

12 January 2006

Chiang Mai (TNA). A cabinet minister said today that an actual free-trade agreement with the United States is still al long way off, and talks have not so far yielded any definite agreement. Tariff cut plans are still subject to further consultation.

Vice Minister for Commerce Uttama Savanayon said protesters didn’t end the talks with their invasion of the talks site yesterday. There is no specific deadline for the negotiations to be completed.

Responding to concerns raised by the protesters that the pact would bypass both the parliamentary and public hearing processes, the Vice Minister said the government insists that if amendments to law are required for the FTA pact, the matter will definitely be considered by Parliament.

At the same time, the government is willing to listen to dissenting views, Dr. Uttama affirmed.

He said that there will be many more rounds of negotiations yet so that both sides make the most out of the FTA agreement.

Finance Ministry fiscal policy office director Naris Chaisoot, head of the FTA negotiating team for the financial sector, said that talks in his sector have so far gone only as far as reviewing the "mutually acceptable list," without specifying what is possible and what is not.

Given the differences in administration and perception between the two countries, Dr. Naris explained, five rounds of talks dealing with the financial sector so far have dealt with the macro-level of framework, definition and international law so that both sides agree on a set of common understandings.

Dr. Naris said Thailand’s financial sector stands no chance of competing with the US because American business is so far advanced and so different.

But in negotiation, he said, ’the big picture’ must be taken into consideration, especially in trade. Greater access to the US market certainly means a lot to Thailand, Dr. Naris said.