Thailand starts touchy free trade talks with US

posted 27-March-2004

Straits Times, Singapore

26 March 2004

Thailand starts touchy free trade talks with US

By Nirmal Ghosh

BANGKOK - A large Thai delegation led by Commerce Minister Watana
Muangsook
yesterday opened crucial preliminary talks in Washington aimed at
reaching
a free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States by the end of the
year.

The agreement could see bilateral trade volumes - currently at around US$21

billion (S$36 billion) annually - leap by between 10 and 20 per cent.

The US is Thailand’s largest trading partner, while Thailand is America’s

18th largest trading partner.

Both countries are keen on the agreement.

But analysts and some delegates warned the talks would see wrangles over

intellectual property rights, Thai market access, economic freedom and
government procurement.

The Thai government currently has a ’buy Thai first’ policy which US
companies want to see changed.

Over 100 US lawmakers, bureaucrats and business sector representatives
are
participating in the first round of talks.

There will be a second more specific round at the trade representative
level in the middle of the year.

Mr Ernest Bower, chairman of the US-Asean private sector working
committee,
said the FTA would give US investors more scope not only to put their
money
in Thailand, but would also offer greater investment links with Asean.

The US currently has an FTA with only one Asean country, Singapore.

The agreement with Singapore is seen as a model for other subsequent
agreements.

Mr Bower said: ’Top-ranking companies from all industrial sectors in the
US
support the FTA with Thailand. This will strengthen cooperation with
Asean,
while the FTA will serve to promote other international trade
liberalisation agreements.’

The touchy nature of the negotiations was taken up by Thai-US private
sector committee member Veerapongse Ramagkura, who stressed that if
Thailand perceived that it would lose out in the FTA deal, it would
shelve
the negotiations.

The US-based Heritage Foundation, in a position paper released at the
start
of the talks, said: ’An FTA with Thailand is a natural next step for the

United States to take.’

But it warned that a ’laundry list’ of issues of concern to the US, such
as
piracy, would be raised.

source :

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