March 07, 2013 00:00 By PIYANART SRIVALO THE NATION
The Thai government delegation ended its visits to Sweden and Belgium with the announcement that the Thai-EU free trade agreement will be concluded in less than two years, as part of Thailand's commitment towards free trade and competitiveness enhancemen
Olarn Chaipravat, an economic adviser to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and chief of the Thailand Trade Representative, will head the Thai negotiating team. Aside from Singapore, which is the first Asean country to reach an agreement with the European Union, followed by Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are set to start negotiations soon.
The Thai Cabinet on December 4 gave the go-ahead for FTA negotiations, despite public opposition amid fears that alcohol and pharmaceuticals would be included in the deal.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong said here that to ensure public support, the government had promised not to put economic returns above the expense of human health.
“Most importantly, the government will maintain open access for representatives of the public to voice their concerns before and after each round of negotiation to ensure all sides have the same understanding of the issues involved,” he said.
While the FTA will ensure free flow of goods and services, the Thai delegation also wooed foreign investment to Thailand, convinced that the Bt2-trillion infrastructure investment will bolster Thailand’s competitiveness.
The first meeting between the Thai-EU trade delegation is scheduled for May in Brussels, with Bangkok hosting the subsequent meeting; there will be at least one meeting each quarter hosted alternately by the two sides. Kittiratt expects the negotiations to take a little more than a year to conclude the trade talks.
Yingluck yesterday had discussions with European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht.
According to Olarn who said he received and reviewed written concerns, the Thai FTA delegation will start off the discussions with Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU Commission.
Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom said permanent secretaries of all related ministries will join the negotiating team.
Thailand’s exports to the EU will enjoy lower taxes under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) until 2015. If the FTA can be concluded then, there should be no impact on Thailand’s export, he said.
Both Thailand and the EU have pushed hard for the bilateral agreement, believed to boost bilateral trade and investment. The Thai-EU Business Council warned recently that Thailand would see its gross domestic product stunted by 1.2 per cent if it does not sign a free-trade agreement (FTA) by 2015 when the European Union’s tax breaks expire.
Thailand has bilateral agreements with Australia, India, New Zealand and Peru, while also being a part of the Asean-China FTA. According to the Foreign Trade Department, Thai exports under FTAs were worth US$41.7 billion last year, rising 4.41 per cent from $39.94 billion in 2011.