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NZ-Thailand : Government to put heat on Thai PM over trade

New Zealand Herald, Auckland

6 July 2004

Government to put heat on Thai PM over trade

By FRAN O’SULLIVAN, assistant editor

The Government will play on Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s known affection for New Zealand to ensure a tough deadline for negotiations on a bilateral trade deal is met.

Thaksin - leading what is probably the biggest group of cabinet ministers (seven) to visit this country at one time - arrives in Wellington tonight fresh from signing a free-trade deal with Australia.

At issue is the need to ensure the New Zealand talks do not lose impetus under the welter of trade deals that Thailand is negotiating with several countries, including the United States.

"The Prime Minister is the strongest sponsor of this venture in the Thai Government," said Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton. "So it’s important to us that he goes away with his enthusiasm reinforced."

Proposals for greater access for Australasian dairy farmers to Thailand’s market of 63.5 million people have met strong opposition from Thai farmers.

"New Zealand would be considerably disadvantaged if it cannot match the terms Australia has already negotiated," said Sutton.

He said the Thai farmers’ alarm was misconstrued in respect of New Zealand.

"We would never be looking to compete in the fresh milk market of Thailand - but we can certainly add value to their industry in terms of processing, distribution and capability."

Prime Minister Helen Clark will host Thaksin and his ministers to a dinner at Premier House in Wellington tonight.

Clark wants Thaksin to renew his commitment so negotiations are finalised in time for the pair to give their ritual sign-off at the November Apec meeting in Chile.