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US pushes for all-embracing free trade pact with Thailand

Agence France-Presse | 5 May 2004

US pushes for all-embracing free trade pact with Thailand

WASHINGTON : US business groups pushed for a comprehensive free trade agreement with Thailand, including quota-free sugar imports opposed by American farmers and a Thai guarantee to weed out corruption.

"No products should be excluded from the agreement," Ernest Bower, president of the US-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Business Council, told a US International Trade Commission hearing on the proposed pact.

The US sugar industry wants to shut out Thai sugar imports, which it claims is heavily subsidised by government.

But Bower said by ensuring that US companies had increased access to Thai goods, particularly sugar, Washington would "send a strong signal that it is wholly committed to supporting US business interests both at home and abroad."

Thai sugar imports to the United States are severely limited at present.

The US sugar lobby managed to get the commodity excluded from the recently forged US-Australia free trade agreement although domestic sugar prices are nearly three times world prices.

A US coalition of more than 100 business groups also pressed at the hearing for an all-encompassing free trade pact.

"The coalition fully endorses the elimination of quotas on sugar and sugar containing products," said James Min, an attorney for FedEx Express Corp. which is co-chair of the US Thailand Free Trade Agreement Business Coalition.

He said the high sugar prices "severely" disadvantaged US companies using the commodity as a product input and harmed American consumers.

The hearing Tuesday by the US International Trade Commission was to gauge the economic effects of duty free treatment for imports into the United States under the proposed agreement.

The commission is an independent federal agency that provides trade expertise to Congress and government, determines the impact of imports on US industries and directs actions against certain unfair trade practices, such as copyright infringement.

The United States is Thailand’s largest trading partner. Total bilateral trade of 21 billion dollars is largely in Thailand favor to the tune of 15.2 billion dollars.

US business groups regard Thailand’s complex tariff structure as a major impediment to trade. They also consider Thai duties on most sectors as high.

For example, Thailand slaps an average 24 percent tariff rate on US farm products.

The US Chamber of Commerce, in its testimony, said it wanted Thailand to lower tariffs significantly, increase transparency, enhance protection for intellectual property rights (IPR) and provide greater access for service companies.

"We also believe the FTA should commit the Thai government to address the rampant corruption problems present in Thailand," said Myron Brilliant, the chamber’s vice president for Asia.

He wanted a special provision in the agreement requiring Thailand to implement and enforce high standards of intellectual property protection.

The chamber charged that levels of IPR piracy and counterfeiting in Thailand were among the highest in the world, with pirated DVDs making up 40 percent and pirated VCDs around 70 percent of the available movie product.

Unauthorised transmission of US programming over cable television was also widespread, he said.

"The members of the US ASEAN Business Council will not support the signing of the final agreement unless IPR were protected and that protection was enforceable," Bower said.

"Our negotiating team believes that Thailand is going to enforce the laws," he added.

Negotiations to frame the free trade pact are expected to be completed in 2005.

It will make Thailand only the second Southeast Asian country after Singapore to ink such an accord with the United States.

Malaysia will next week sign a bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with the United States, a precursor for a possible free trade pact.


© 2004 Agence France Presse

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