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Thailand: Lobbyists needed to guard interests

The Nation | Bangkok | 4 October 2004

THAI TRADE: Lobbyists needed to guard interests

Pacts take ongoing settling of disputes

Achara Pongvutitham

Thailand needs more lobbyists in the capitals of its major trading partners to protect its interests in the context of global, regional and bilateral forces, a senior official in the Commerce Ministry has said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Thailand is gearing up to negotiate free-trade agreements (FTAs) with the United States, Bahrain, Peru, New Zealand, Japan, India and China.

The Kingdom is also working to forge trading standards among the seven members of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (formerly known as BIMST-EC), the official noted.

In addition, the formation of the European Union (EU) has embroiled Thailand in more trade barriers and regulations that require the skills of lobbyists, he said.

Apiradi Tantraporn, director-general of the Trade Negotiations Department, said Thailand has hired lobbyists in Brussels and Washington DC. The former is working to resolve trade disputes with the EU, while the latter provides information to facilitate the Thai-US FTA.

“Increasing the number of both multilateral and bilateral trade pacts has caused the department to require more lobbyists, but we have faced criticism from the House economics committee, which said there was corruption related to employing lobbyists,” Apiradi said.

He added that Thailand hires lobbyists on a case-by-case basis due to budget limitations.

One of lobbyists’ primary functions is to keep the country up to date regarding trade information. In tough negotiations where another country must make crucial decisions, lobbyists can play a key role influencing the outcome.

Two of Thailand’s top priorities are the Thai-US FTA and trade negotiations with the EU following its expansion from 15 to 25 countries.

“Without lobbyists, Thailand will lose export opportunities and trade privileges in the EU to other export rivals, because they have appointed lobbyists to not only provide information but also make friends with EU negotiators in each area,” said the Commerce Ministry official.

He said Thailand must now hold trade talks with the EU more frequently due to its membership expansion, and lobbyists would enable Thailand to keep up to date with EU regulations.

“Efficient lobbyists arrange meetings for us with key contacts and decision-makers,” the official said.

He noted that Singapore has appointed several lobbyists in Brussels, the EU’s headquarters, to facilitate its trade negotiations.

“Thailand has to deal with many EU negotiators, with each negotiator responsible for one issue, and they are often changed without prior warning. This makes negotiations difficult for us,” the ministry official said.

An EU commission official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the commission is relatively small, with 17 organisational units dealing with trade issues. Most of the 450 commission officers have travelled all over the world negotiating issues like anti-dumping measures and other trade defences.

The EU has more issues and regulations relating to its trading partners since the membership expansion, the official said. He added that meeting with key EU negotiators is not easy for Thailand’s representatives, but said lobbyists could help facilitate negotiations.

 source: The Nation