Financial Express (Bangladesh)
’New Thai govt may push forward BIMSTEC FTA’
The sagging negotiations on the proposed BIMSTEC Free Trade Area (FTA) agreement are likely to get momentum after a new government is installed in Thailand through October 18 elections, the Thai foreign minister said in the city Sunday, report agencies.
Frictional internal politics in Thailand apparently slowed down the current negotiations on the seven-nation free-trade area under the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).
"We would like to continue the discussion on BIMSTEC FTA. The Thailand government is waiting for elections, which will be held on October 18. The new government would push forward the process," Thai Foreign Minister, Kantahi Suphamongkhon, told the press after bilateral talks with his Bangladeshi counterpart M Morshed Khan.
Both the Thai and the Bangladeshi foreign ministers are leaving Dhaka for India today (Monday) to attend the Ninth BIMSTEC ministerial meeting to be held in New Delhi August 8-9.
The 2-day meeting is expected to review the progress of the BIMSTEC FTA after a missed implementation deadline of July 1.
Morshed Khan, who is the current chair of the economic bloc, will hand over the helms to India at the meeting.
The economic bloc, comprising seven South and Southeast Asian countries — Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal — would focus on some outstanding issues relating to the FTA deal.
The Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) of senior officials and experts met in Colombo during July 25-29 to review the progress and observed that there were still many issues to resolve before implementing the FTA.
An official of the commerce ministry in the capital said the TNC negotiations on the proposed free-trade accord on trade in goods began afresh in July after a long stalemate since the first TNC meeting in February this year.
The next meeting of the TNC is scheduled for September, but it is unlikely to set a fresh deadline to implement the FTA, as huge groundwork still remained to be done, he said.
The official said the member-states have once exchanged their respective sensitive lists of products to keep them out of the tariff-liberalisation programme (TLP). The member-countries are likely to review the lists and again exchange them after further review before the next TNC meeting.
TNC experts at their meeting last month also discussed key trading arrangements such as rules of origin and lists of items to be opened under the fast track of trade liberalisation programme.
Technical experts had discussions on a separate framework of dispute-settlement mechanism.
As for the FTA on trade in goods, the negotiators had agreed to open trade under ’fast track’ and ’normal track’ of trade liberalisation.
Under the fast track, the members have agreed to bring down tariffs to a range of zero to 5.0 per cent by June 2009 for developing countries and by June 2011 for least-developed countries.
Under the normal track, however, they will follow a gradual tariff-liberalisation programme. The developing countries will have to reduce tariffs for one another by June 2010 and with least developed members by 2012.
While the compliance deadline for developing countries is June 30, 2015, for the LDC members it is July 2017.
Besides FTA on trade in goods, BIMSTEC members had agreed to kick-start free trade area for service trade and investment from July 2007.
Meanwhile, Thailand has expressed keen interest to invest in Bangladesh’s garment and energy sectors.
The interest was shown when visiting Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon Sunday held talks with his Bangladeshi counterpart M Morshed Khan at the state guest house Meghna.
Emerging from the meeting, both the ministers told journalists that Bangladesh and Thailand can have open skies between the two countries with increased flight operations.
The Thai foreign minister said the Thai Airways will kick off operational management of Chittagong Shah Amanat International Airport from September 1 and enhanced flight operations will be made to boost tourism and investment here in Bangladesh when a new international airport opens in Bangkok on September 28.
The visiting minister said a Thai-managed spa would be set up in the Hotel Radisson Water Garden.