Trade agreements: Govt ups pressure to win new pacts

The Nation

TRADE AGREEMENTS: Govt ups pressure to win new pacts

26 February 2004

By Benjaprut Akkarasriprapai

Special committees set up to negotiate and follow up on various
strategies

The government yesterday announced a proactive policy thrust to reach
comprehensive free trade agreements with the United States of America,
Japan and China.

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak launched the FTA strategy at a
joint meeting with the private sector and key ministries, including
Commerce and Industry.

"We aim not only to expand trade but also to achieve co-prosperity with
our partners. It must be win-win," said Somkid, who also chairs the
International Economic Relations Committee.

"Under FTAs with China, Japan, India and the USA, Thailand will be a
trade and investment hub for Asean countries," he said, adding that the
government would pursue ’proactive’ measures. Somkid announced the
creation of two steering panels to handle talks. The first would
coordinate state agencies, the public sector and academic groups. It is
chaired by Sompol Kiatpaibool, former permanent secretary for commerce.
The other, chaired by Dr Narongchai Akrasenee, a noted economist and ex-commerce
minister, will follow up on various negotiations and help set
strategies.

Nitya Pibulsonggram, an adviser to the foreign minister, has been named
chief FTA negotiator with the US. Pisan Manawapat, the director-general
of the Department of International Economic Affairs, will head talks
with Japan, and Sompol is responsible for China.

Somkid is to visit the US in April or May to launch discussions.
Thailand has already started talks with Japan and will expand
negotiations with China on other goods.

Somkid said one of the strategies is to hammer out additional pacts with
countries that could act as gateways. India could open up markets in
nearby South Asian nations, while Bahrain could expand opportunities in
the Middle East.

Trade Negotiation Department director-general Apiradi Tantraporn said
the Kingdom plans FTA negotiations with Canada, Mexico, South Korea and
Chile and blocs like the EU and Mercosur.

In the agricultural sector, technology and processing will be emphasised.
For the industrial sector, focus will be on fashion, automotive,
electronics, furniture and household decorative items. Services to be
pushed are tourism, healthcare and construction.

"In such businesses as banking, insurance, entertainment,
telecommunications and transportation, which we are not ready to open,
we will prolong the period of negotiations to find mutual benefit," she
said, adding that Thailand would negotiate with China for a
comprehensive FTA package.

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