Heightened push for free-trade agreements

Economy December 27, 2018 01:00


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THAILAND has set an ambitious goal to finish drafting four free-trade agreements (FTAs) in 2019, including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) mega multilateral FTA and three bilateral FTAs with Turkey, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

“Due to its size, finishing the RCEP negotiations is going to be the top priority for us. 

As the chair of the Asean summits in 2019, Thailand has listed the completion of the RCEP negotiations as one of our 12 deliverables,” said Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general of the Department of Trade Negotiations (DTN) under the Commerce Ministry. 

If negotiations are successful, RCEP will be the largest multilateral trade pact in history – encompassing China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the 10 Asean nations.

The combined gross domestic product of prospective RCEP members accounts for up to 28 per cent of global GDP, she said, and as much as 30 per cent of the value of world trade.

The RCEP negotiations will cover 20 chapters of an agreement document, seven of which have been completed. 

Thailand aims to swiftly guide the talks for the completion of the remaining 13 chapters by the end of next year, Auramon said.

Meanwhile, Thailand has begun talks with Sri Lanka, Turkey and Pakistan on arranging bilateral FTA agreements with the respective countries. “We aim to finish drafting the terms of the FTAs with the three countries by the end of 2019, and we expect the FTAs will be signed |and enacted in 2020,” Auramon |said.

“Thailand has a promising potential to expand our trade with these three countries. These are rapidly growing markets with a high demand for various Thai exports. Furthermore, Thai goods are perceived as high quality products by consumers in these countries,” she said.

Four meetings with each country 

There will be at least four meetings with each country in 2019 to finalise the terms of the three bilateral FTAs. 

The FTAs will address issues such as liberalising trade in goods and services, opening up markets to investors from both countries, and implementing regulations such as intellectual property protection and anti-dumping measures, she said. 

Thailand primarily exports goods such as dried fish and rubber to these destinations. Thai investors in the hospitality and construction industries have also expressed an interest to invest in the three countries, according to the director-general. 

Thailand’s combined goods exports to the three countries significantly exceeds the value of imports from them. 

In the first 11 months of 2018, the Thai-Pakistan trade value stood at $1.58 billion (Bt51.38 billion), with Thailand exporting up to $1.386 billion (Bt45.08 billion) and importing only $194 million (Bt6.308 billion). The Thai-Turkey trade value for the first 11 months of 2018 reached up to $1.334 billion, with exports up at $1.022 billion and imports at $312 million. 

Meanwhile, Thailand’s trade value with Sri Lanka was the smallest, with figures at only $482 million in trade value from January to November this year. Thailand exported $403 million while importing only $79 million worth of goods from Sri Lanka, according to the Ministry of Commerce. 

The DTN has aimed for the Thailand-Turkey annual trade value to reach $20 billion in 2020, and for the Thai-Sri Lanka annual trade value to triple to $15 billion in 2020. The target trade value for |Thai-Pakistan trade has yet to be revealed.