Foreign chambers, local executives want Thailand in TPP

2The Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand and leaders of domestic business sectors last week called on the government to make a decision on whether or not to join the United States-led Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade bloc, saying that Thailand would benefit economically from membership.

“The TPP includes the U.S., which is one of the biggest markets for Thai exports. As investors and manufacturers in the country, foreign [interests] would like the Thai government to announce clearly [its intention on] the TPP, as well as proceeding on other free-trade agreements,” said Stanley Kang, chairman of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand (JFCCT).

Kang made the comments after meeting with Commerce Minister Apiradi Tantraporn. He told the minister that Thailand should take steps to join the 12-member TPP during its second stage of negotiations, after the country missed its chance to join during the first stage. Within Southeast Asia, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Viet Nam are already TPP members and Indonesia has expressed interest in joining.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has been non-committal on the TPP, saying he needs more time to consider the variety of views in Thai society. While the business community is solidly behind joining the pact, members of other sectors, such as those involved in public health and agriculture, have voiced reservations or outright opposition.

On the other hand, Prayut’s economic czar Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak has enthusiastically advocated for Thailand to join the TPP, believing it will bring a wealth of trade and investment benefits to the Kingdom. The U.S. first broached the idea of Thailand joining the bloc during the previous Thai administration, which showed no interest in becoming a member.

Deputy Commerce Minister Winichai Chaemcheang, who serves as chairman of a subcommittee studying the TPP, said that the ministry held a first round of discussions with a range of stakeholders over the past month about their views on whether or not Thailand should apply for membership. The ministry heard from academics, businesses, and the agriculture and livestock sectors.

Most agreed that Thailand should join the TPP, Winichai said.

Additional hearings on the issue will be held in more provinces this month. Topics to be discussed include market access, rules of origin, trade measures, biological-varieties protection, intellectual-property rights, patent protection, geographical indication, dispute settlement between government and investors, labor protection, and the environment.

Kang of the JFCCT, meanwhile, also urged the government to further liberalize the Foreign Business Act, and focus on creating more openness through reducing red tape in order to facilitate greater trade and investment in the Kingdom. Complicated laws and regulations need to be streamlined, he said, and doing so would benefit Thailand by attracting more trade and investment.