Manila Bulletin, 21 December 2005
Rice gets in way of FTA deal
KUALA LUMPUR, (AFP) - Thailand said it had refused to sign a trade agreement between South Korea and ASEAN, insisting that rice be included on the list of goods facing tariff cuts. The other nine Association of Southeast Asian Nations members signed the agreement covering trade in goods, a precursor to a full free trade agreement (FTA), while Thailand said negotiations over the issue would continue. "We deferred the signing. It may take place in the next three to six months," Thai Commerce Minister Somkid Jatusripitak told reporters. Under the deal, South Korea and ASEAN’s six more advanced countries - Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand - would start cutting tariffs from July 2006 when the agreement goes into force. The proposed accord specifies that South Korea and each ASEAN country may choose up to 40 items that could be excluded from tariff reductions for an unspecified period. South Korea wants to put rice on its protected list but Thailand, the world’s number one rice exporter, objected. Vietnam, the world’s number two exporter, also raised the issue with South Korea, but the problem was settled when Seoul granted some concessions on industrial goods.