US responsive to Thai concerns

Bangkok Post, 22 September 2005

US responsive to Thai concerns

ACHARA ASHAYAGACHAT & KRISSANA PARNSOONTHORN

Washington — US congressmen have pledged to accommodate Thailand’s concerns about drug prices and freer mobility for Thais into the United States once the two countries conclude their free trade area (FTA) agreement. Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon discussed the issues and others related to the FTA with US lawmakers on Tuesday.

He said his message to the congressmen was that Thailand wished to see an equitable FTA concluded next year.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and President George W. Bush on Monday agreed the deal should be wrapped up within one year from now, before the president’s fast-track power under the Trade Promotion Authority Act expires.

Other issues raised by Mr Kantathi included US anti-dumping penalties on Thai shrimp, a request for the US to eliminate its 25% tariff on one-ton pickup trucks, market access for Thai sugar, and affordable prices for essential drugs.

He said the congressmen and businessmen he met had pledged to accommodate the Thai concerns and work for an FTA that resulted in mutual benefits.

US business leaders also said they would support capacity-building assistance for Thailand in terms of competitiveness, entertainment, and intellectual property rights (IPR), Mr Kantathi said.

The minister has held talks in Washington with US Trade representative Rob Portman and several influential congressmen including Charles Rangel, a New York and ranking minority member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Sources said Mr Rangel expressed his understanding about Thai concerns on IPR issues and supported a flexible approach to drugs for life-threatening diseases such as HIV/Aids, rather than the rigid demands now on the table.

Wisconsin Republican Jim Sensenbrenner, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, told Mr Kantathi that the issue of mobility or immigration should be a matter for the judiciary committee and not under the trade committee. He suggested the issue be dealt in a separate arrangement, similar to the approach used with Australia, diplomatic sources said.

Mr Portman, meanwhile, reiterated his desire to see the FTA negotiations concluded within next year before the president’s fast-track authority expires.

Nitya Pibulsonggram will lead a large Thai delegation to the fourth round of FTA talks in Hawaii, scheduled for five days starting on Monday.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Thanong Bidaya, speaking in London at the Asean Finance Ministers’ Investor Seminar, said Thailand’s position remained unchanged that financial services should be liberalised gradually.

’’We need time to adjust ourselves as local banks lack the technology and innovations to compete with foreign banks. Based on size, Thai banks certainly can’t compare with international giants that have networks around the world,’’ he said.

US trade negotiators are pressing Thailand to open up financial services and investment under the FTA.

Dr Thanong is scheduled to fly to Washington tomorrow for talks with his US counterparts on the trade agreement.

He said Thailand needed to have safeguards that liberalisation would not lead to excessive volatility and instability.

’’Thailand can’t evaluate the impact that could occur from opening up financial services, given that our market is very small and we lack the knowledge and expertise here.’’

He conceded that the two countries had different approaches to the issue.

’’In the next round of negotiation in Washington, we will try to reach a compromise for both sides, so that we can move on to discuss more in details about what we can do and what we can’t [regarding financial services].’’

source: Bangkok Post