Thai-US FTA: Somkid aide assigned to trade talks

Nation, Bangkok

THAI-US FTA: Somkid aide assigned to trade talks

By Wichit Chaitrong

10 January 2006

Right-hand man will help broker deal.

Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Somkid Jatusripitak has tightened his grip over the Thai-US FTA talks by assigning his right-hand man, Uttama Savanayana, to play a key role in the negotiations with the US team in Chiang Mai, a source said yesterday.

The source admitted that it is not yet clear how Uttama would divide his role with Nitya Pibulsonggram, the incumbent head of the Thai trade negotiation team, who represents the Foreign Ministry and who has been leading the talks with the US over the past five rounds.

Commerce Vice-Minister Uttama is Somkid’s most trusted aide. The source said Uttama has joined the trade negotiating team in Chiang Mai and would be working closely with Nitya in assessing the pros and cons of the trade deal.

In December, Uttama also represented Somkid at the World Trade Organisation’s Doha Round of trade liberalisation talks in Hong Kong. He attended important meetings on behalf of Somkid, who was obliged to leave the ministerial meeting and fly home to attend the mega-project presentation at Government House.

Finance Minister Thanong Bidaya yesterday met with Naris Chaiyasoot, head of the team negotiating the financial services sector. Thanong, too, would like to be kept fully informed of the progress of the FTA talks. Representatives from the Bank of Thailand, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Insurance Department also met with Thanong to discuss their views on the financial sector.

The source said that Thanong told Naris, who is also director-general of Fiscal Policy Office, to report to him in detail about the progress of the negotiations. This round of talks is critical as financial services negotiations will be put on the table.

Local bankers and financial executives have called for a transition period if the financial sector is to be opened, citing the still underdeveloped state of the Thai sector.

Officials said that the outcome of the negotiations on financial services depends on the whole package of talks: whether Thailand can benefit from the package ranging from trade in goods, services, investment, intellectual property, environment, labour and dispute-settlement mechanisms.

Naris is expected to ask permission from Thanong if he has to agree with the US on the opening of financial services. Negotiations on this issue are scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

Vice-Minister Virachai Virameteekul of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will also join the Thai team.

Meanwhile, Deputy Public Health Minister Anuthin Charnveerakun is expected to make key decisions about the negotiations on drug patent issues, which is of huge concern among Thai counterparts.

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