A pact for like-minded traders
Interview: EFTA countries have high hopes for free trade deal with Thailand
Thailand and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) are stepping up efforts to forge a Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
A parliamentary committee of the EFTA led by Ingibjörg Ólöf Isaksen visited Thailand from Sept 5–9, after the first round of Thai-EFTA free trade agreement meetings resumed in Bangkok in June.
The EFTA, on the other hand, will host the next round of bilateral meetings from Oct 31–Nov 4 in Geneva, Switzerland.
In an email interview with Bangkok Post, Ms Isaksen said the FTA with Thailand and EFTA would not only help improve economic ties between the two parties but would also develop sustainable growth.
EFTA comprises Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. It is an international organisation set up to promote trade and economic integration between its four member states.
"The association also aims at opening new markets globally by concluding a trade agreement with important countries around the world, such as Thailand," she said.
What are the EFTA?
The EFTA are all western European countries, but they are not members of the European Union (EU). They have independent trade policies and join forces to conclude trade agreements and open new markets worldwide.
Ms Isaksen said EFTA approaches cover various areas such as trade in goods, trade in services, e-commerce, intellectual property, government procurement, trade and sustainable development.
"The EFTA also strives to include ambitious provisions in trade and sustainable development to make sure the agreement will be in line with sustainability, with the decarbonisation of the economy, the sustainable management of natural resources and ensure that the rights of workers are respected," she added.
When asked why EFTA was interested in free trade negotiations with Thailand, she said EFTA countries were small and export-oriented economies with strong and diversified economies; however, they had relatively limited internal markets.
"It is necessary to open up new markets to source raw materials or components abroad and broaden export opportunities all around the globe," she added.
The FTA would bring people in Europe and Thailand closer via trade as many citizens from EFTA countries now live in Thailand and many Thais live in EFTA countries. The FTA will see more tourist visits between the two parties.
Apart from that, EFTA countries were among the top investors in Thailand. An FTA would help create job opportunities among Thais, she said.
At the same time, as EFTA countries were at the forefront of green technology, the two parties could exchange knowledge and best practices to help Thailand overcome current challenges linked to energy and global warming issues.
"Trade is important because it brings people close together, and a trade agreement will help foster these links," she added.
The trade volume between EFTA countries and Thailand is worth €2.846 billion (about 105 billion baht). It consists of imports from Thailand of €1.696 billion and €1.150 billion worth of goods and services that EFTA countries export to Thailand.
No details were available on what level trade could reach once a deal was complete.
"We have heard that here in Thailand there is an ambition to agree in two years' time. It would be the first agreement that Thailand has concluded with a European country and all sides are working to reach this goal," she said.
"The global challenges you mention only increase the determination of both Thailand and EFTA to conclude a free trade agreement. Thailand and EFTA countries are export-orientated, well integrated into global trade.
"The two sides believe that international cooperation is the best strategy to address challenges that cannot be solved acting alone. A trade agreement will allow us to further diversify sourcing and exports and ultimately make our economies more resilient," she added.
Mutual benefits were the main concern in reaching a balanced agreement that meets both sides' needs.
"Looking at the close ties and friendship that we have established in Thailand, I am more than optimistic that we will reach that goal together," Ms Isaksen said.