OFFICIALS at commerce-related state agencies have been told to ready themselves for free-trade talks with their European Union counterparts following the EU Foreign Affairs Council’s decision to gradually resume political re-engagement with Thailand.
Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak said the decision by the EU agency, announced on Monday, would provide a boost to Thailand and its economy.
Somkid has assigned Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong to ensure that all commerce-related state agencies be well-prepared for the prospect of the trade talks with the both the EU and its member countries. The negotiations would likely start after Thailand’s next general election, he said.
With the EU’s adjusted stance on the country, there could be high-level official visits between Thailand and the EU, or even bilateral agreements forged with EU member countries for strategic partnerships, he said.
Nonarit Bisonyabut, a research fellow at Thailand Development Research Institute, said the EU's decision to restore political contacts at all levels with Thailand came from its unit responsible for matters concerning human rights and democracy, not economic affairs.
The key point, he said, is that the EU will gradually resume the bloc’s relationship with Thailand, focusing on the country's human rights, fundamental freedoms and the democratic process.
Nonarit said he believed that discussions covering economic matters and a free-trade agreement (FTA) could wait until the election had been held.
“In this region, Singapore and Vietnam have finished their FTA talks with the EU.
“What Thailand can do is to study clearly which positions we should adopt if there are negotiations,” he said.
Auramon Supthaweethum, deputy director-general at the Department of Trade Negotiations, hailed the decision by the EU Foreign Affairs Council to restore the bloc’s political relationship with Thailand as a good sign, noting that the EU was Thailand's fourth largest trading partner and second-largest investor.
The department needed to prepare itself well for the possible trade negotiations with the Europeans, she said, adding that there could be informal discussions between the EU and Thailand to pave the way for negotiation of an agreement to cover trade, services and investment.
“Thailand has a developed trade system and has made legal amendments to its trade laws covering a number of aspects including the ease of doing business, trade competition and intellectual property. And Thai authorities have been closely monitoring developments in the EU, such as Britain’s exit from the grouping,” Auramon said.
The department has prepared a careful strategy for the likelihood of negotiations that would bring mutual benefits as well as protection for groups that would lose advantages, such as likely impacts from the intellectual property negotiations on access to drug patents, she said.
Auramon said that although Thailand would lag behind other Asean countries, such as Malaysia and Vietnam, for FTAs, the agreements reached with both countries had not yet been formal signed by the EU.
This meant that Thailand was not disadvantaged by the delay in FTA negotiations with the EU, she said.