Efta free-trade talks edge closer

Efta free-trade talks edge closer

Hearing sketches out framework details

The Commerce Ministry will seek cabinet endorsement for a proposed negotiation framework for a free-trade agreement (FTA) with the European Free Trade Association (Efta) following a recent public hearing on the matter.

Auramon SupthaweethumG, director-general of the Department of Trade Negotiations, said the department held the hearing on March 30, attended by state agencies, the private sector, farmers, the civil sector and academics.

The move was in line with the wishes of Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit who wanted the department to speed up free-trade agreement talks with countries that are Thailand's key trading partners, to expand the global reach of Thai trade, she said.

A proposed framework for FTA negotiations with Efta agreed upon at the hearing will be presented to Mr Jurin. It will then go before the International Economic Policy Committee (IEPC) and the cabinet, she said.

"If endorsed by the cabinet, the department will inform the Efta and proceed with negotiations," Ms Auramon said.

Efta comprises Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

"Efta is one of Thailand's targets for a free-trade agreement as the group has adopted a free trade policy and has a high level of purchasing power and economic strength. They are leaders in innovations and technologies and have significant investors.

"An initial study found that an FTA with Efta will help boost Thailand's leverage and competitiveness for Thai products and services in the bloc, as well as attracting investors specialising in high innovations and technologies from the bloc to Thailand," Ms Auramon said.

Auramon: Proposed framework to go to Commerce Minister

Efta has expressed interest in opening talks on a free-trade agreement with Thailand since 2019 and the department has commissioned the Institute for Future Studies for Development to conduct a study on possible impacts of the free trade agreement, she said.

The findings are published on the department's website (www.dtn.go.th) while public hearings were also held to gather feedback on the proposed framework for FTA talks, she said. Efta was Thailand's 12th-largest trading partner in 2020.

Bilateral trade between Thailand and Efta totalled US$10.4 billion in 2020, with exports fetching US$7.8 billion (262 billion baht) and imports $2.65 billion.

Thailand-Efta trade volume last year stood at $7.51 billion, representing 1.39% of Thailand's total trade. Of the total, exports from Thailand accounted for $1.7 billion and imports $5.81 billion. Important exports included gems and jewellery, watches and parts, automobiles and parts, while prominent imports comprised jewellery, gems, silver bars, gold, machinery and components.

Thailand has 14 FTAs with 18 countries, with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which came into force early this year, the latest trade pact.

Ms Auramon said a public hearing was held to gather feedback on the arrangement of negotiation frameworks for upgrading Asean free-trade agreements with dialogue partners.

The move followed the Asean Economic Ministers launching negotiations to upgrade the Asean Trade in Goods Agreement which member states have been implementing since 2010, and improve FTAs between Asean and trade partners -- China, India, South, Korea, Australia and New Zealand -- which came into effect between 2005 and 2010, to keep up with the changing circumstances.

Ms Auramon said upgrades of Asean FTAs with partners will provide an opportunity for Thailand to hold talks with trade partners to gain a foothold in those markets and reduce tariffs on Thai exports.

Last year, trade volume between Thailand and Asean, under an FTA which took effect in 2010, increased by 94%, while an FTA between Thailand and China, implemented in 2005, saw bilateral trade jump by 580%. Trade with South Korea also increased by 92% under an FTA that took effect in 2010.

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