TPP decision likely to come after elections
More time needed to study effects of trade agreement
Thailand is likely to rely on a democratically elected government to decide whether to join the much-touted Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), as time is limited for the incumbent government to make a decision on the pact.
According to commerce vice-minister Winichai Chaemchaeng, Thailand needs time to thoroughly study the effects of the TPP, while existing signatories still require a lengthy process to ratify the deal before it comes into force.
The TPP is a trade pact signed last October by 12 countries led by the US including Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Australia and New Zealand. The Asian members are Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.
The economies of TPP signatories encompass 40% of global trade or US$295 trillion a year, with a combined GDP of $28.3 trillion representing 38% of the global total. The 12 TPP members account for 40% of Thailand's trade and 45% of foreign direct investment.
"Even if the government decides to take part in the TPP, it doesn't mean that Thailand would be automatically accepted," he said. "Thailand needs to do a lot to make it ready as the pact is a comprehensive agreement and the most high-level liberalisation agreement in the world, featuring not only trade, investment and service liberalisation but also tighter regulations and requirements on e-commerce, government procurement, intellectual property, the environment, transparency and anti-corruption."
Mr Winichai said Thailand still has time until 2017 to consider joining the TPP. Its signatories, for example, still need to seek approval from their own legislative bodies before ratifying the pact.
Mr Winichai said the Commerce Ministry has been holding public hearings with farmers and civic groups to discuss the pros and cons of the TPP since October of last year. More hearings are also planned in many provinces, he said.
In addition, the Commerce Ministry has opened a forum for people to express their opinions regarding the TPP on the website of the Department of Trade Negotiations (www.dtn.go.th).
Meanwhile, Mr Winichai said the Commerce Ministry's Commercial Affairs Office in Washington has hired Capital Trade, a US research firm, to study the effects of TPP on Thailand.
The study is expected to be finalised by the end of this month.
A revised version of the study by the Panyapiwat Institute of Technology, which was also hired by the ministry, has been completed, he said.
The original study conducted by the institute found that Thailand would enjoy more gains than losses from joining the pact and recommended that the country join the new trade bloc.
The study said that joining the TPP would boost the economy by 0.77%. If Indonesia and the Philippines were also to join, Thailand's GDP could grow by as much as 1.06%.
The benefits for Thailand include an upgrade of product manufacturing and service standards, as the TPP encompasses not only tariff reductions for trade in goods among members, but also eliminates barriers to investment and trade in services.
Thailand would also need to amend laws and regulations to make itself compliant with the agreement, the study said.