Thailand has kicked off the first round of free-trade agreement (FTA) talks with the European Free Trade Association (Efta), in the hope that a deal could be reached within two years.
According to the Trade Negotiations Department's Director-General Auramon Supthaweethum, Thailand hosted the first round of Thai-Efta FTA meetings in Bangkok between June 28-30.
The two levels of authority at the talks comprised a chief negotiators' meeting and a negotiation panels' meeting.
Mrs Auramon said the chief negotiators had discussed the overview of FTA negotiations between the two sides, covering FTA structure, guidelines, negotiation formats and plans for future talks.
Thailand has proposed setting a target to conclude the negotiations within two years.
The negotiation panels agreed to discuss 16 topics: trade in goods, rules of origin and customs cooperation, trade facilitation, trade remedy measures, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, technical trade barriers, trade in services, investment, e-commerce, intellectual property, competition, government procurement, trade and sustainable development, technical cooperation and capacity building, general provisions, final and institutional arrangement and dispute settlement.
Efta will host the next round of bilateral meetings from Oct 31 to Nov 4 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Thailand and Efta agreed to launch negotiations over a potential free-trade deal on June 20. Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit, who participated in the start of the talks with Efta in Iceland, said the agreement, once implemented, was expected to help double two-way trade between Thailand and Efta.
Efta comprises Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
The association was Thailand's 17th-largest trading partner in 2021. Thailand-Efta trade volume last year stood at US$7.5 billion, representing 1.39% of Thailand's total trade.
Important Thai exports included gems and jewellery, watches and parts, automobiles and auto parts, travel appliances, accessories and components, machinery and mechanical components, air conditioners and components, cosmetics, soaps and skincare products, and canned and processed seafood.
Prominent Thai imports included jewellery, gems, silver bars, gold, clocks and components, edible meat, pharmaceuticals, and medical products.
Thailand has 14 FTAs with 18 countries, including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which came into force earlier this year.
FTA negotiations with Efta took place from 2005 to 2006, but then came to a halt.
Efta has expressed interest in reopening talks on an FTA with Thailand since 2019. The Commerce Ministry's Trade Negotiations Department commissioned the Institute of Future Studies for Development to conduct a study on possible impacts.
The study concluded that an FTA with Efta would help boost Thailand's leverage and competitiveness for Thai products and services in the bloc and attract investors specialising in high technology and innovations.
It forecast that Thai exports to Efta would increase by 38% to $262 million, while imports from Efta would increase by 14.8% to $210 million.
A deal is expected to increase Thailand's overall GDP by 0.179 percentage points, or $898 million.