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Ambassador upbeat over bilateral ties with Thailand

Jul 15. 2019
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French Ambassador to Thailand Jacques Lapouge says his country and Thailand will continue to strengthen their business ties through the Airbus-Thai Airways (THAI) U-Tapao Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) hub and the re-negotiation of the Thai-EU free trade agreement (FTA).

“The U-Tapao MRO project has not witnessed major delays and we believe that progress is on the right track,” he said on Monday.

The French embassy, he claimed, would continue to closely follow the development of the project as it involved Airbus, one of his country’s largest companies.

In June 2018, Airbus and THAI signed a joint venture to cooperate in developing the multi-billion baht MRO hub in U-Tapao with the goal of making it the centre of aircraft maintenance in the Asean region. 

Last year, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha visited France to attend the joint venture’s signing ceremony at Airbus’s headquarters.

The MRO project is a major component of Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) mega-investment project, which the government aims to use to promote aviation and other industries.

Dubbed the largest MRO hub of its kind for the Asia-Pacific region, the U-Tapao facility will have an annual capacity to service up to 4,800 wide-bodied aircraft over the next two decades.

Asked about Airbus’s legal and management concerns about the MRO project, Lapouge said Airbus and THAI were already compiling a committee comprising officials from both parties to explore the issues. 

Another regional cooperation involving the two countries is the development of the Thai-EU FTA. 

In the past year, Thai trade officials have been trying to negotiate with the EU after talks for an FTA were halted back following the 2014 military coup.

“France fully supports the renegotiation of the Thai-EU FTA as we see strategic economic benefits from both sides,” the Ambassador said. 

France, in particular, has faced high levels of tariffs from Thailand on such exports as wine, spirits, cosmetics and luxury products.

“These sectors stand to benefit from lowered tariffs from the potential Thai-EU FTA,” Lapouge claimed, pointing out that Thailand and the EU would be involved in major trade negotiations in 2019.

Thailand is currently chair of Asean and is heading the negotiation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a 16-country multilateral trade pack which has been stuck in negotiations for the past seven years. 

For its part, the EU will be busy with the Brexit negotiations towards the end of the year. 

“Hence, the issue of whether Thailand and the EU can resume official negotiations about an FTA by the end of this year this year may be [down to] a question of workload,” he said.

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