Thai business groups in favor of joining TPP

3Thailand’s three most powerful business associations urged the government last week to take steps to join the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), saying that joining would be necessary to increase the country’s competitiveness.

The Board of Trade, Federation of Thai Industries and the Thai Bankers Association all agreed on the issue during their monthly meeting. They pressed the government to examine the agreement and consider applying for membership in the grouping, as well as pursuing other free-trade agreements (FTAs) and groups.

On this matter, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has said he needs to consider the views of all constituencies, not just the business community. In particular, he mentioned public health groups and advocates who have expressed concern over the TPP’s provisions concerning intellectual property protections on pharmaceuticals.

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, who was appointed a little over one month ago, has spoken favorably about the possibility of joining the pact. Somkid is searching for ways to boost Thailand’s growth. The country’s economy is heavily dependent on exports, and the slowdown in China has affected Thailand’s economic performance.

Isara Vongkusolkit, the chairman of the Board of Trade who oversaw the meeting, said private enterprises are concerned that after the successful conclusion of the TPP agreement Thailand could be come less competitive because it is not a member.

“The [private sector] organizations will set up a working committee to study the impacts and benefits of the TPP and other FTA talks to propose for the government’s consideration soon,” Isara said.

The U.S.-ASEAN Business Council has also been lobbying for Thailand to join the TPP, and dozens of U.S. executives voiced that position when visiting Thailand and meeting with Prime Minister Prayut two months ago.

Roughly 40 percent of Thailand’s trade is with TPP countries, exceeding the volume and value of trade it has with its neighbors in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which are set to launch the ASEAN Economic Community, a free trade zone, at the end of this year.

Four ASEAN member countries have joined the TPP: Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.

Supant Mongkolsuthree, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, said businesses are concerned that Vietnam could begin drawing more U.S. trade and investment away from Thailand because it is a TPP member and Thailand is not.

“Thailand, which aims to be a center of regional integration, should do something to ensure the country’s [status] as the region’s investment and trading hub,” Supant said.

The TPP is, however, controversial because of some of its provision and the alleged secrecy of the negotiations held to conclude it. Civil society groups in virtually all the member countries have voice reservations or opposition to it.



Thailand Focus, Week of October 13, 2015
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