Thai-NZ talks kick off today

The Nation, Bangkok

TRADE LIBERALISATION: Thai-NZ talks kick off today

By Thanong Khanthong

June 15, 2004

But ’Kiwis don’t want to call it an FTA’

Thailand and New Zealand start formal talks in Wellington today on a
free-trade deal that encompasses comprehensive cooperation in trade,
goods,
investment, services, trade facilitation and the movements of people.

Karun Kittistaporn, permanent secretary of commerce, heads the 20-member

Thai delegation, which has drawn representatives from the commerce,
finance,
industry and agriculture ministries and the Immigration Department.

"We are launching the first round of free-trade talks. The New Zealand
side
does not want to call it a free-trade agreement or FTA. They want
something
more than that, which is a closer economic partnership," Karun said
yesterday before boarding a flight to Wellington.

Working groups between the two countries have already held talks on the
broad outline of the closer economic partnership. The Thai-New Zealand
deal
is likely to follow the Thai-Australia FTA blueprint. Prime Minister
Thaksin
will travel to Australia next month to sign that agreement.

Under the Thaksin government, Thailand has earnestly pursued FTAs with
major
trading partners, viewing trade liberalisation under the World Trade
Organisation as being unlikely to produce quick results.

So far Thailand has signed FTAs with Bahrain and China. Australia will
be
the third country.

Thailand has also ambitiously entered into FTA negotiations with major
economic powers such as the United States, India and Japan.

In Wellington, Associated Press quoted New Zealand’s Trade Negotiations
Minister Jim Sutton as saying that a joint study showed that there would
be
"mutual benefits" to New Zealand and Thailand from building closer trade
and
economic ties.

New Zealand is a small country of some 3.8-million people, compared with
63
million for Thailand.

Thailand’s dairy industry has been a sticking point in bilateral trade
relations, as the Kingdom has sought to protect the industry from
foreign
competition.

Earlier, the Thai Holstein-Friesian Association demanded that the Thai
government keep dairy products out of the deal. The group’s president,
Adul
Wangtal, said farming costs in New Zealand - where dairy products make
up
about a fifth of the country’s exports - were much lower than in
Thailand.

"Put the dairy industry on FTAs with any other countries, but not with
Australia and New Zealand," he said.

Take skimmed milk powder as another example. Thailand imposes a quota
limit
on the importation of this product at 50,000 tonnes a year. However,
actual
demand is about 60,000 to 70,000 tonnes a year.

Australia and New Zealand are the major producers of skimmed-milk powder
and
are keen to use the free-trade deals to sell more of the product on the
Thai
market.

Thailand hopes the free-trade deal with New Zealand will help facilitate

Thai investment in that country, such as restaurants, beauty shops, spas
or
other service businesses that Thais are good at.

In the Thai-Australia free-trade deal, immigration rules and regulations
are
now more open for Thais to travel and do business in Australia.

Thailand hopes to achieve a similar deal with New Zealand.

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