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Government warned not to be left behind in starting free-trade talks with EU

Thailand may lose opportunities to promote trade and investment with the European Union if its falls behind Asean countries in bilateral free-trade talks expected to reach agreement next year.

At a meeting with Commerce Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong yesterday, EU Ambassador David Lipman said the union’s free-trade talks with Singapore and Malaysia were progressing well. It is hoped that the negotiations will conclude next year.

“I hope that Thailand will not get too far behind other Asean countries in starting bilateral talks with the EU, since [such a] pact will help ensure the country’s competitiveness and promote economic growth for both sides,” he said.

The EU started talks with Singapore and Malaysia early this year. It also expects to start the first round of talks with Vietnam soon.

The union sees Thailand as an interesting potential FTA partner as there is a lot of trade and investment between Europe and the Kingdom.

According to the Commerce Ministry, two-way trade between Thailand and the EU reached US$29 billion (Bt905 billion) in the first eight months of this year. Thailand enjoyed a trade surplus with the union in the period, with exports worth $17 billion while imports were valued at $12 billion.

Last year, bilateral trade was worth $34 billion.

Lipman added that he foresaw more trade expansion between Thailand and the EU next year. Although some countries in the union have faced financial difficulties, the EU will still have high demand for consumption, so trade growth should continue.

A draft plan for talks with the EU is being considered by the ministry’s Trade Negotiation Department involving many areas, including intellectual-property rights, human rights and trade barriers.

The department plans to propose the draft plan to the Cabinet in the near future, and eventually for Parliament’s endorsement. However, there are some issues of concern by some activists, such as on tariff reductions for alcoholic beverages and protection of intellectual property.

Source: The Nation

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