Thai private sector calls for Trade deals with the U.S. and U.K.

fta4In the aftermath of President Trump’s pullout from the Trans Pacific Partnership, Thailand’s leading businesspeople are calling on the government to propose free trade agreements with the United States and the United Kingdom so that Thailand’s trade will be more competitive, said members of the Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking last week.

“Besides emerging markets like Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, the U.S. economy has shown strong growth compared with other traditional markets such as the E.U. and Japan. Thus Thailand should move ahead with bilateral trade talks with the U.S. and other potential countries such as the U.K. after the Brexit result,” said Chen Namchairisi, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries.

The Committee is composed of the Federation of Thai Industries, the Thai Bankers Association and the Board of Trade. The Committee had supported Thailand joining the Trans Pacific Partnership, and that was a factor in the current government’s stand that it would work to eventually join the agreement.

Thailand is a prospective member of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a free trade agreement being negotiated by the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Thailand is a founding member, and Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

Board of Trade chairman Isara Vongkusolkit said that Thailand should press ahead with multilateral free trade pacts such as the RCEP, but those would take a long time to conclude because of their complexity, and therefore it would also be advantageous to strike bilateral free trade agreements with the U.S. and the U.K.

“The RCEP is big but does not [include] the U.S. A bilateral pact could be an answer to ensure that Thai exports to the US. grow,” he said.

Thailand and the United States had been engaged in negotiations for a free trade agreement more than a decade ago, but strong opposition from some domestic Thai labor, industry and rights groups made concluding the deal politically inexpedient for the government at that time.

Some of the issues that led to the scuttling of the agreement had to with intellectual property rights and patents on pharmaceuticals. Those opposed to the agreement feared that it would result in life-saving medications becoming unaffordable for Thais who need them.

Chen said that the Thai government should conduct public hearings on those issues of concern to ensure that all stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations and activist groups, understand the situation.

He said that a free-trade agreement with the U.S. should be comprehensive and cover goods, services and investment, as well as technology transfer.