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Thailand: Ministry plans to cut time it takes to complete FTA

The Nation, Thailand

Ministry plans to cut time it takes to complete FTA

By Petchanet Pratruangkrai

31 August 2013

The Commerce Ministry aims to speed up the time it takes to complete talks on free-trade agreements from the current average of two years.

"If Thailand delays on finalising an FTA, other countries could benefit before us. The ministry and involved sectors will, therefore, draw up plans to make FTA [negotiations] more rapid, as well as ensure maximum benefits for the country," Commerce Minister Niwatthumrong Boonsongpaisan said yesterday, after a meeting to discuss a framework for FTA talks.

Most of these agreements have similar principles, namely including the liberalisation of trade in goods, services and investment, as well as the elimination of barriers. The government will streamline the procedures used in FTA talks to date and adopt them for similar negotiations in the future, he said.

Thailand is a signatory to the following FTAs: the ASEAN and Asean+6 trade pacts, plus bilateral agreements with Japan, India, Chile, Peru, China, Australia and New Zealand.

The Kingdom is in the process of negotiating an FTA with the European Union, and is studying the possibility of bilateral talks with Turkey, Poland, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Canada.

The government is also studying whether to participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is led by the United States.

Niwatthumrong said many government agencies were currently working on details in the FTA talks with the EU, because of the many sensitive issues that have been raised during the negotiations.

For instance, the Public Health Ministry is working on pharmaceutical issues, while the Comptroller-General’s Department is doing preparatory work for discussions on government procurement.

The EU has called on Thailand to create fairness in public procurement; that is, under the same regulations for Thais and foreigners. Thailand and the EU are scheduled to hold the second round of FTA negotiations by mid-September.

Meanwhile, the minister said the value of Thai exports should not contract this year, as many agencies fear will be the case.

While acknowledging that the Kingdom would find it difficult to achieve the growth target of 7-7.5 per cent amid the current global economic slowdown, he said exports should expand positively this year.

The government and private sectors will urgently draw up more detailed plans to drive exports over the remainder of the year, he said, adding that the official 2013 export estimate should come out during the meeting with Thai trade representatives late next month.