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Thai FTA accord in sight

The Asahi Shimbun

March 24, 2005

Thai FTA accord in sight

Japan and Thailand are expected to reach basic agreement as early as next week on agricultural, forestry and fishery products, moving closer to the conclusion of a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA).

The sector has been one of the most contentious areas in the ongoing FTA negotiations.

Sources say the deal could be clinched at vice-ministerial level talks in Thailand next week, or at a ministerial meeting in Tokyo next month.

If agreement is reached, Thailand will likely become the third Asian nation to broker a free trade agreement with Japan, after Singapore and the Philippines.

But two major issues remain to be resolved: giving Thai chefs and other workers access to the Japanese job market, and lifting Thailand’s tariffs on Japanese industrial products.

In the agricultural sector, Thailand wants Japan to begin dismantling tariffs on rice, sugar, starch and other sensitive items. The two countries are expected to agree to either suspend negotiations on these products for several years, or exclude them altogether from items due for tariff-removal.

Japan is expected to slightly lower tariffs for poultry, the largest agricultural item imported from Thailand, from the current range of between 8.5 and 11.9 percent.

Japan is expected to promise to provide technical assistance to improve food safety in Thailand as part of efforts to increase Thai exports of meat and other foodstuffs.

Japan currently bans import of live chickens and raw meat from Thailand for quarantine reasons. Only meat cooked at designated food processing facilities is allowed entry.

Imports of agricultural, forestry and fishery products from Thailand have reached 330 billion yen, accounting for a quarter of total Thai imports.

Japan and Thailand began FTA talks in February 2004.

The issue of farm imports has also been a stumbling block in Japan’s FTA talks with South Korea, which have been suspended since November.

The subsequent eruption of a territorial dispute between the two countries means the resumption of FTA negotiations is unlikely to happen anytime soon, say Japanese officials.

On March 16, the Shimane prefectural assembly enacted an ordinance designating Feb. 22 as ``Takeshima Day,’’ reinforcing Japan’s claim for a contested island group in the Sea of Japan.(IHT/Asahi

 source: Asahi Shimbun