Thai business upbeat on EU free trade talks restart

Thai business leaders and government officials expressed optimism last week when foreign ministers of the European Union said they would restart negotiations on a free trade agreement with Thailand, the successful conclusion of which would boost Thai exports, the main engine of the Kingdom’s economic growth.

“We hope the resumption will restore the GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) for Thai exporters,”said Wisit Limluecha, vice-president of the Thai National Shippers’ Council, as GSP would make Thai products and services more competitive because of lower tariffs.

The EU Foreign Affairs Council last week said that the EU would “resume political contacts with Thailand at all levels” following statements by Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha that national elections are on the horizon. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha welcomed the EU’s decision, saying it was the result of sustained efforts to explain Thailand’s political situation and difficulties. “They [EU] did not set any conditions. They only want Thailand to return to democracy via a creditable election,” the prime minister said.

Thailand and the EU had held four negotiating session on an FTA before the talks were suspended in 2014.  New bargaining sessions could begin before long, as Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, who oversees the economy, told officials to fast track the talks and prepare to travel to the EU next year.

The European Union (EU) is Thailand’s third-largest trading partner, following China and Japan, while Thailand is the EU’s third-largest trading partner within the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Thailand exported $23.1 billion worth do goods to the EU in 2015, according to statistics from the European Commission.

Natthanan Kunnamas, the Jean Monnet Chair and an EU expert at Chulalongkorn University, said the EU was adopting a new approach towards Thailand and other countries that included more political pragmatism.