US, Thailand make ’significant progress’ in free trade talks

AFP, 4 October 2005

US, Thailand make ’significant progress’ in free trade talks

WASHINGTON : The United States and Thailand have made "significant progress" in their latest round of talks to forge a free trade agreement, the US Trade Representative’s office said on Monday.

The fifth round of FTA talks in Honolulu, Hawaii followed a meeting between US President George W. Bush and Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, during which they directed their officials to conclude a FTA as soon as possible.

"Following this directive, the two sides made significant progress on the range of issues, including services, investment and financial services, covered by the FTA," the USTR office said in a statement after the talks which ended last Friday.

The United States, it added, welcomed the "constructive proposals" offered by the Thai negotiators, which contributed to the "concrete progress" achieved during the week of talks.

The two countries are scheduled to meet again next month to "maintain the momentum and position" them to conclude the FTA "expeditiously," the USTR office said.

Negotiations have been held for more than a year by the two sides but there has been no breakthrough, with sensitivities in agriculture and intellectual property rights among the stumbling blocks.

USTR Rob Portman last month stressed the need for the conclusion of a "comprehensive" FTA that included financial services, intellectual property rights protection, labour, and environment, "which are critical to ensuring strong support in Congress."

Free trade pacts have to be approved by the US Congress before implementation.

The United States is Thailand’s largest export market, and Thailand is the 18th biggest US trading partner.

Thailand reportedly wants its financial services industry kept out of the free trade pact as it wants more time for its banks and financial institutions to face unfettered competition.

In addition, the United States seems worried over the protection of intellectual property rights in Thailand.

Two-way US-Thailand goods trade was 23.9 billion dollars last year, an increase of 14 percent over the previous year, US figures showed.

Other Asian economies South Korea and Malaysia have expressed interest in a possible FTA with the United States.

Singapore is the only Southeast Asian nation to have a FTA with the United States.

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source: AFP