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US elections key to FTA progress

The Nation, Thailand

US elections key to FTA progress

By Petchanet Pratruangkrai

1 October 2006

The result of the US mid-year elections holds the key to whether the Thailand-US free-trade agreement (FTA) negotiations will continue or break down, according to Puangrat Asavapisit, Thailand’s permanent representative to the World Trade Organisation.

If the Republican Party wins in November, she said last week, most of the current US policies, including bilateral trade negotiations, will be continued. If the Democrats win, they are likely to be changed.

As one of America’s partners in the FTA arena, Thailand is closely monitoring potential changes in Washington’s new international-trade policy. Puangrat said Thailand would have to wait for the interim government to make a final decision as to whether go ahead with free-trade negotiations.

"The next round is due after November," she said.

The Thai-US FTA talks have been going on for 18 months with little progress. They were suspended in January at Chiang Mai because of demonstrations against the pact. The coup has also hampered the negotiations.

Despite the suspension of talks, Thai representatives continue to prepare details so that discussion can resume once a new Cabinet is appointed. A small group of Thai and US officials still meets and will discuss the subject this month ahead of the seventh round of talks.

Another important issue is that the US Trade Promotion Authority is set to expire next June, which will affect talks, specifically on whether any trade deal must be accepted in its entirety by the US Congress.

Meanwhile, the coup has also threatened the Thailand-India FTA. The Commerce Ministry has cancelled a visit to India this week.

Chana Kanaratanadilok, deputy director-general of the Trade Negotiations Department, said India and Thailand lacked close enough leadership ties.