Commerce minister vows to speed up FTA talks
Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit has pledged to speed up talks on pending free trade agreements (FTAs), both on a regional and bilateral basis, including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), Thai-EU FTA and talks with Turkey, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Britain.
Mr Jurin, who chaired the first meeting with senior ministry officials on Wednesday, said accelerating FTA talks is one of the top policies he assigned the officials.
"RCEP, in particular, needs to complete negotiations within this year so that the pact can be signed by the middle of next year," he said.
"The next target is to restart the Thai-EU FTA that has been stalled for years because of political problems."
FTA negotiations between Thailand and the EU, the country's third-largest trading partner, have been on hold for about five years.
After the 2014 coup and introduction of military rule, the EU discontinued FTA talks with Thailand to protest the suspension of democracy.
Instead, the EU pursued trade negotiations with other Asean nations and has signed FTAs with Singapore and Vietnam.
Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general of the Trade Negotiations Department, said the department will hold the first public hearing on the Thai-EU FTA on Aug 14 at the Commerce Ministry.
Mrs Auramon said the department will hold a public hearing for all stakeholders to air their comments four times between August to October and prepare remedies for sectors that may see effects by the agreement.
The department assigned the Institute of Future Studies for Development to study the impact of the Thai-EU FTA.
The study is expected to be finished at the end of October.
After that, the department will present the study and public hearing results to the government before making a decision on reviving the FTA negotiation.
Mr Jurin said he assigned the officials involved to study the pros and cons of joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a newly formed bloc of 11 Pacific Rim nations excluding the US.
Other top priorities are the income guarantee scheme for farmers focusing on oil palm, rubber, rice, tapioca and corn; export stimulus focusing on farm products, One Tambon One Product (Otop) items, garments, gems and jewellery; and service business development for restaurants, spas, elderly care and film.
The ministry also places ease of doing business and promotion of geographic indication products among its focal points.
"The ministry will become an important mechanism to drive the new economy, including digital, biotechnology, green, sharing and creative sectors by supporting Otop, franchised producers, and small and medium-sized enterprises," said Mr Jurin.
He said the ministry is committed to upgrading traditional convenience stores to become "smart traditional convenience stores".
Such stores will upgrade local entrepreneurs with a new look, with modern shelves and software applied to manage stock and reduce production costs to compete with modern trade.
The stores will be developed in parallel with existing Thong Fah Pracha Rat shops, which now number around 83,000.