Thailand: Private sector urges revival of FTA talks

Bangkok Post | 31 January 2008

TRADE / THAILAND-US RELATIONS

Private sector urges revival of FTA talks

Government ’should not be defensive’

Woranuj Maneerungsee

Business leaders are urging the new government to press forward with bilateral free trade negotiations with the United States, aiming to receive more preferential treatment than rival countries.

Pornsilp Patcharintanakul, the deputy secretary-general of the Board of Trade, said that in principle, Thailand should establish a pact with the US, the world’s largest economy, to increase exports and foreign investment.

The US was Thailand’s third largest export market after Asean and the European Union last year.

"I would not say the new government should pursue the seventh round of talks with Washington. But we should start from square one based on our experience in the previous negotiations and further study," Mr Pornsilp said.

He made the comment at a seminar held yesterday by the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) on measures to alleviate the effects of opening the Thai market to the US, focusing on farm products and patents.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry, which was in charge of the Thai-US FTA negotiations under the Thaksin Shinawatra government, sponsored the TDRI study. It would prepare Thailand to enter additional trade talks with the US, the ministry said.

The bilateral agreement has been heavily criticised by social activists, and talks were suspended by Washington following the September 2006 coup.

Mr Pornsilp added that if negotiations with Washington were revived, the Thai government should not be defensive and allow the US to lead negotiation as had happened before.

"For instance, we are good in sugar exports, so we should demand that the US open its market in exchange," Mr Pornsilp said.

Somkiat Tangkitvanich, the research director at the TDRI, said it would not be easy reviving the agreement in the short term because the circumstances in both countries had changed. The US president no longer has Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which allows the president to negotiate trade agreements without congressional intervention.

He also said that the upcoming presidential elections would pose a challenge because a Democratic administration may be less receptive to a free trade pact. "I think that in the long run, if the Doha Round (or World Trade Organisation talks) still struggles, the US may use FTTAP (Free Trade Area of Asia-Pacific) under Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation) for freer trade talks," he said.

He added that a possible trade agreement between Asean and the US could be another forum for Washington to propose its interests with Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries.

Intellectual property rights, including patents on agricultural and pharmaceutical products would be key issues, according to Mr Somkiat.

source: Bangkok Post