Asean paves path towards better FTAs

Asean paves path towards better FTAs

Market access and tariffs targeted

Thailand looks poised to improve free trade agreements (FTAs) under the Asean framework next year, aiming to extend tariff cuts to cover more products, particularly sensitive items.

The Trade Negotiations Department also wants to upgrade agreements so they are in line with changing economic conditions.

Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general of the department, said the focus of negotiations will be the Asean FTAs with China, India, South Korea and a joint pact with Australia and New Zealand.

"The review for the Asean-China FTA, for instance, will focus on improvements in market access to allow more products to receive tariff cuts," Mrs Auramon said.

"Products pending negotiation are mainly on the sensitive and highly sensitive lists, totalling 500 items," she added.

She said negotiations aim to cut tariffs for items on the sensitive lists to zero from 0-5% now, while highly sensitive items are projected to be reduced from about 50% now.

Target products for negotiations include rice, refined sugar, corn, oil crops, rubber and palm.

For the Asean-India FTA, Mrs Auramon said the negotiations will aim to reduce tariffs on more products. Currently the tariff cut covers 79% of the total items.

Target products include oil palm, rubber, food, automotive parts and petrochemicals.

India signed an FTA with the bloc in 2009, effective from 2010.

Mrs Auramon said negotiations with South Korea under the Asean framework will touch more on sensitive items such as rice, refined sugar, tapioca and fruit.

Trade talks with Australia and New Zealand will focus largely on e-commerce, state procurement, customs procedures, financial services, telecommunications, restaurants and hotels, as tariffs on goods have already been cut to zero.

Asean has FTAs with Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong. Most Asean members are projected participants in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

On a bilateral basis, Thailand has 12 FTAs in place, with 17 trading partners.

In the first 10 months of this year, Thailand's trade value with all 17 FTA partners amounted to US$241 billion, with exports worth $118 billion and imports $123 billion.

The trading partners that generated the highest trade value for Thailand were Asean ($90.7 billion), China ($65.2 billion), Japan ($47.7 billion), Australia ($12.2 billion) and South Korea ($11.3 billion).

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