Thai trade negotiators to focus on tech over tariffs

In a paradigm shift in Thailand’s approach to trade, the Kingdom’s trade negotiators will prioritize technology transfers over tariff and non-tariff measures in talks with bilateral trading partners, the head of the Trade Policy and Strategy Office said last week, in a move that reflects the changing nature of the Thai economy.

In addition to technology transfer, trade negotiators will seek strategic partnerships in the services sector, intellectual property, value-added goods and human resource development, said Pimchanok Vonkorpon, director-general of the Trade Policy and Strategy Office at the Ministry of Commerce.

“We can no longer look only at tariff cuts. The focus should be more on technology and innovative collaborations,” she said.

The new priorities align with the recently formulated 20-year national strategy known as Thailand 4.0 that aims to elevate innovation, creativity, research and development and advanced and green technologies as drivers of the Thai economy. The strategy is designed to enhance the competitiveness of Thailand’s economy and society and signals a new stage in the Kingdom’s development.

The policies are also intended to spread development more widely and evenly across geographic areas and among different classes. Uneven development has led to social tensions that have at times been a factor in fueling political conflicts.

“Inclusive negotiations should address the issue of reducing inequality and income disparity as well as the changing competitive environment, as the disruptive technology brings about a number of small smart players, big data, growing cross-border data flows and cross border e-commerce,” Pimchanok said.

Trade negotiations also need to concentrate more on value creation, particularly in the 10 industries targeted for support under Thailand 4.0. They include industries such as robotics, aviation and aerospace, and electric vehicles.

The director-general also told reporters that digital technology and digital platforms are transforming the work of the Ministry of Commerce. The Trade Policy and Strategy Office recently launched a digitally driven Import Potential Index that uses data to evaluate the potential import demand of 168 countries.

The index will help Thai trade officials determine which markets hold the highest potential for Thailand’s exports.

To date, the index has been used to identify 24 countries that have very high import potential for Thai goods and services. They include China, the United States, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan.

The information gleaned from the index will assist Thai trade negotiators in their dealings with their counterparts overseas, Pimchanok said.