MCOT, 12 March 2005
Govt pushes ahead with EFTA trade liberalization talks
BANGKOK, Mar 12 (TNA) - The Ministry of Commerce is pressing ahead with plans to establish a free trade area (FTA) with Europe, amid hopes that it could boost trade by more than 15 percent each year.
The first round of trade talks with the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) grouping, which comprises Switzerland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland, will take place in May, and are expected to take 18 months to complete.
Yesterday Mr. Krirkkrai Jirapaet, head of the Ministry of Commerce’s Thailand-EFTA FTA negotiation team, revealed that this month would see the establishment of a panel to weigh up the pros and cons of the proposed deal.
The first official discussion will take place between Thailand and Iceland in May, with full discussions in September.
On the agenda will be reductions in tariffs for industrial goods, the opening up of markets for agricultural goods and reductions in non-tariff trade barriers.
The latter will be a particular sticking point, due to the extremely high hygiene standards imposed by the EFTA grouping.
The talks will also touch on the service sector and intellectual property rights.
By penetrating the EFTA market, Thailand hopes to expand its market presence in the European Union (EU).
Currently the EFTA grouping conducts 70 percent of its trade with the EU, but only 1 percent with Thailand, valued at around USD969 million a year.
Thailand also hopes to attract foreign investment from EFTA, particularly in the service and manufacturing sectors, with EFTA nations acting to transfer knowledge and technology.
Mr. Krirkkrai stressed that Thailand and EFTA had few goods that would be in direct competition, and that trade liberalization, if handled carefully, would be characterized by mutual benefit.
Thailand hoped that by enforcing a deal, it would be able to boost bilateral trade by at least 15 percent a year, he said.
Key Thai exports to the EFTA grouping include gemstones and jewellery, watches and components, aircraft components and aviation equipment, electronic goods, canned and processed seafood and clothing. Imports from EFTA include medical equipment,
industrial machinery, chemicals, fertilizer and pharmaceuticals.