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Thailand-EU free trade pact on track for completion in 2025, Thai PM says

The Diplomat - 13 March 2024

Thailand-EU free trade pact on track for completion in 2025, Thai PM says
By Sebastian Strangio

Thailand expects to complete its negotiations over a free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union by the end of next year, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said yesterday during a state visit to France.

In a statement issued after a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Élysée Palace in Paris, the Thai leader said that the Thai-EU FTA is on track to be completed within 18 months.

Negotiations between the two sides restarted in December, after a delay of nearly a decade. The EU halted negotiations in response to the May 2014 military coup that overthrew Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The third round of talks is set to take place in June.

The finalization of the FTA talks, which were initiated in 2013, would expand the fruitful economic relationship between the two nations. According to government data cited by Reuters, Thailand exported $21.8 billion worth of goods to the EU last year, including cars, computers, jewelry, and electric circuits, making the bloc its fourth-largest trading partner. Among the largest Thai exports to the EU were machinery, electronic equipment, and pharmaceutical products.

Srettha was in France as part of a global tour that saw him visit Australia for last week’s ASEAN-Australia Special Summit, and will also saw him arrive in Germany yesterday. In line with his role as a sort of salesman for the Thai economy, Srettha’s agenda throughout the two-week trip has focused overwhelmingly on investment and trade. Government spokesperson Chai Wacharonke said that Srettha’s visit to Germany and France was aimed at boosting investors’ confidence in increasing trade and investment with Thailand.

According to his statement, since arriving in France on March 9, Srettha has “met with executives of over 20 of France’s leading firms in the fields of automobiles, aviation, clean energy, fashion, sports, hospitality and tourism, to explore business opportunities between the two countries,” in The Nation’s paraphrase. Srettha also held talks executives of Formula 1 and said they expressed interest in Thailand as a potential site for hosting a Formula 1 motor racing event.

In his statement, Srettha said that Macron had agreed to support Thailand his government’s plan to seek a visa-free agreement with the European countries in the EU’s Schengen area. He said that the request would be considered after June and hopefully be completed by the end of the year. Macron will also pay a return visit to Thailand next year.

Both the FTA talks and the planned visa-free arrangement are part of Srettha’s push to revive Thailand’s economy, which has still not fully recovered from the doldrums of the COVID-19 pandemic. He plans to tackle them with various economic stimulus packages, including the planned “digital wallet” scheme.

Last week, Srettha announced that the government aims to attract about 40 million international travelers this year, around the same amount that visited the country in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic. This target includes more than 8.5 million travelers from Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

Like the economy as a whole, tourism arrivals are far off returning to their pre-COVID-19 numbers. In order to attract more visitors, Srettha’s government has temporarily waived visas for travelers from China, Kazakhstan, Russia, India, and Taiwan. In January, it made this arrangement permanent for visitors from China, with reciprocal visa-free travel to China for Thai nationals. Last year, around 28 million people visited Thailand.

 source: The Diplomat