Monday, 24 October 2005
Snag Hit on Services: Bilateral FTA Talks Now at Halfway Point
By Woranuj Maneerungsee
Oct. 24—Thailand is unlikely to gain much benefit from service sector liberalisation in a free trade area (FTA) agreement with the United States, a Thai trade negotiator says as the talks reach their halfway point.
The negotiator, who declined to be named, said Washington had ignored a Thai emphasis on gains for the service sector through the FTA. Thai negotiators expected the matter would be raised, but the US side said it had no mandate on the issue from Congress.
"We only proposed the free movement of some professions such as chefs for Thai restaurants. Even from state to state, the US could not respond to this proposal," she said.
Talks began in Hawaii in July 2004 and the fifth round ended last month. The two countries’ leaders have shown their political commitment to conclude comprehensive negotiations by next spring. The negotiations cover trade in goods and services, investment, competition policy, the environment, labour and government procurement.
Washington has pushed Thailand into contentious areas, including principles of market access and liberalisation and regulations related to transparency. Particularly, transparency in telecommunications and the financial sector are among Washington’s major interests.
"For instance, the US has proposed to launch new products in Thailand as soon as they have been introduced in the US market. Domestic regulations would need to be involved in this sort of thing, we might not have proper regulations to control this yet," the negotiator said.
The US is also reluctant to ease off on facilitating the trade of goods. Some potential Thai products in the US market such as garments and pickup trucks are deemed "sensitive".
Also, the US declined to ease SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary), measures to protect humans or animals from risks arising from additives, contaminants, toxins or disease-causing organisms in food
Meanwhile, the deadlock in services negotiations is over different liberalisation approaches.
Thailand prefers a "positive list" approach, in which each sector to be liberalised is explicitly named. On the other hand, the US favours a "negative list", with everything on the table except for certain, named sectors.
The negotiators suspended talks on individual service sectors until the Thai administration clarifies its views. "The negative list worries us. We might lose our ability to regulate (new services) in the future," the negotiator said.