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US still hopes to conclude Thai-US FTA

Dow Jones Newswire

INTERVIEW: US Still Hopes To Conclude Thai-US FTA

By Suttinee Yuvejwattana, of Dow Jones Newswires

BANGKOK (Dow Jones)—The U.S. still hopes to conclude a long-awaited U.S.-Thailand free trade agreement despite a number of unsettled issues, including the liberalization of the Thai financial sector, U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Ralph Boyce said Friday.

"We are not sure how long it will take. We don’t have a timeframe for negotiations. But obviously it will not go on forever... We still hope it will be concluded," Boyce told Dow Jones Newswires on the sidelines of the Asia Society’s 15th Asian Corporate Conference in Bangkok.

He said the FTA between the two countries must be comprehensive, covering all 24 sectors, including "the sticky points" like the financial sector.

Thailand has made it clear earlier that it will not open up the financial sector until local players are strong enough. The country has implemented a new financial sector master plan, which has been forcing smaller financial institutions to merge and restructure since last year.

Boyce said it is impossible for the U.S. to reach an FTA agreement which exempts any of the 24 sectors.

"We never go for early harvest. We want comprehensive or we’d better not do it," he said, adding that Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is aware of this criterion.

The two countries will hold a fourth round of negotiations July 11-18 in the U.S. state of Montana.

Boyce said no agreement will be reached during the round, but the two countries will express and exchange ideas and problems about the 24 sectors under the proposed FTA.

He said unsettled issues on the Thai side include the financial sector, intellectual property and labor issues, while U.S. is also concerned about some agricultural products and the automobile sector.

"Our truck manufacturers are also afraid of pickup trucks from Thailand," he said.

Thai Foreign Affairs Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon said last week that Thailand will propose using a "positive list" for the FTA in the Montana round. This means that items appearing on the list will be included as part of the FTA.

The U.S. had proposed using a "negative list," which specifies the items to be excluded from the FTA.