By PETCHANET PRATRUANGKRAI
THE European Association for Business and Commerce (EABC) is calling for an early resumption of talks on a Thailand-European Union free-trade agreement, arguing that there is no need to wait for the return of democracy.
It says the talks will consume |a lot of time and the FTA is needed to ensure trade growth between |the two sides. The EU stands |in opposition to the military’s seizure of power last year from an elected government, which resulted in postponement of the talks, but the EABC says the pact can be signed once democracy is reinstated.
The EABC’s committee in Thailand, which represents more than 2,000 EU firms, will soon travel to Brussels to persuade the European Commission to resume the FTA negotiations.
After meeting with Deputy Commerce Minister Apiradi Tantraporn in Bangkok yesterday to hear about Thailand’s position on the proposed FTA, EABC president Rolf-Dieter Daniel said European businesses would like to see the resumption of talks as soon as possible.
He said the EABC was ready to act as a middleman between the Thai government and the EC on restarting the talks.
“We want the resumption of the talks as many technical issues will consume time for discussion … After that the two sides can sign the FTA once Thailand has a democratic government,” Daniel said.
He said that after meeting with the military regime, the EABC acknowledged that Thailand was positive about resuming the talks. Daniel also met with the EU ambassador to Thailand earlier to make it clear that European private enterprises demanded a resumption of the FTA talks.
Since Thailand has lost its tariff privileges under the EU’s Generalised System of Preferences while other Asean countries either already have FTAs with the EU or will soon, the Kingdom risks losing competitiveness. Daniel said there was evidence this was already happening with many products Thailand ships to the EU, with those exports declining.
Proponents of the FTA claim it will enhance the competitiveness and investment opportunities of Thai and European enterprises.
Daniel said it could take a year or two to study and discuss certain technical issues related to the FTA, while Thailand and the EU had earlier aimed to wrap up the talks by the end of this year.
In the meantime, while waiting for the FTA talks to restart, the EABC is urging the government to liberalise the service sector under the Foreign Business Act, solve corruption problems, increase government procurement opportunities, and continue working against human trafficking.
Apiradi said the military regime supported the EABC’s stance that the FTA would create benefits for both sides.
She also encouraged European investors to continue trade and investment in the country.