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US hails progress in Thailand talks

Business Week, USA

The Associated Press/PATTAYA, Thailand

U.S. hails progress in Thailand talks

8 April 2005

U.S. negotiators on Friday wound up a third round of negotiations with their Thai counterparts on a proposed free trade agreement, saying they were pleased with the progress made.

After a week of talks, "both countries are now well-positioned for continued progress in the next round, which will be held this summer," the U.S. Embassy in Thailand said in a statement.

The proposed deal has drawn some criticism in Thailand over concerns that parts of it would be detrimental to national interest.

About 1,000 demonstrators rallied Tuesday outside the hotel in the eastern resort town of Pattaya where the talks were being held, protesting U.S. demands for Thailand to tighten its intellectual property rights laws.

The protesters say that the more restrictive laws sought by Washington could prevent Thailand from producing affordable copies of American-made anti-retroviral drugs for people suffering from HIV/AIDS.

Such a move would make it prohibitively expensive to treat most Thais who are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Hundreds of thousands of Thais have the disease.

The U.S. Embassy statement said the agreement would bring benefits to both countries, with Thailand achieving greater access to the U.S. market, already its biggest.

It said that studies indicate that once the FTA is in place, it would boost Thai economic growth and create tens of thousands of new jobs.

The agreement would also make the Thai services sector — including health care, tourism, food, fashion and design — more competitive, the statement said.

It described the FTA’s provisions compelling Thailand to strengthen its intellectual property rights laws as "a precondition for the development of these and other knowledge-based industries."

Total trade between the United States and Thailand was US$22 billion (euro17.3 billion) in 2004, up 14 percent on the previous year.

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