'Revival of talks on FTA a key development from Thailand hosting Apec Summit'
Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general of the Department of Trade Negotiations (DTN), expects to see positive conclusions from the Apec meetings this week in terms of trade and investment in Thailand's bio-circular-green economy and free-trade agreements.
In an exclusive interview with The Nation, Auramon speaks about the role of her department in helping Thailand’s preparations to host the Apec Summit, trade and investments issues, bilateral free trade agreements between Thailand and other economies and the predicted outcome of the summit.
Q: As the curtains go up for Apec 2022, how excited is the Department of Trade Negotiations about the possibilities?
A: Very excited, because we have been helping, assisting with the organisation of the Apec Summit since the beginning of this year as an economic pillar.
Q: What are the areas towards which the DTN has contributed?
A: The department has been involved with four key activities that will take place in the next few days.
First, we are helping the MFA [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] host the Apec Ministerial Meeting [AMM], which will be chaired by Jurin Laksanawisit, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce, and Don Pramudwinai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand. It will provide opportunities for ministerial levels to discuss this year's Apec theme: Open. Connect. Balance. Another activity that my department has been involved in is the bilateral meetings of minister Jurin, because there is going to be a good opportunity to meet other Apec ministers who accompany their leaders to Thailand. It’s a good opportunity to discuss bilateral trade issues with them. The other important development is: we are planning for the ministers to sign a MoU [memorandum of understanding] between Thailand and Australia on economic cooperation, and we are also helping the Department of International Trade Promotion and the Ministry of Commerce in showcasing Thai products on the BCG theme at the event.
Q: What other FTAs are likely between Thailand and other economies?
A: We are going to have the AMM meetings, but they also provide opportunities for Thailand to have bilateral discussions with our trading partners. We have already set the agenda with some countries for ministers to meet. For instance Japan. So it will be a good opportunity.
Q: Apart from Japan, are any other meetings planned, such as with China or Russia for example?
A: Maybe not China and Russia this time. In the case of Russia, the ministers had already met last year. There’s going to be a leaders’ meeting — between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha — so there’s no need for a ministerial level meeting.
Q; Amid geo-political tensions, are you concerned about any disagreements in international trade between the economies and also would it cause concern or inconvenience to Thailand in negotiating trade with the other economies as well?
A: I think Apec is a forum where members can discuss cooperation, so when Thailand was chosen to host Apec, we set the theme as: Open. Connect. Balance. When we chair and host the AMM on November 17, we have provided some topics for Apec economies to discuss. It will be relevant to the three key areas in the theme, and the meeting will be divided into three main agendas. The agenda that Minister Jurin will chair will be related to Open. I think this will guide Apec economies to discuss their ideas on how Apec can move forward to have open trade in order to make the Apec region very efficient and have sustainable economic integration.
Q: How do you see Apec moving forward and contributing to the world situation right now, especially when the world is recovering from the pandemic, and economies are hit by recession or downturn? How do you see this cooperation between Thailand and the other economies panning out?
A: During the pandemic, we realised the problem that arose from countries’ lockdowns, which caused constraints in the flow of goods and services across borders. So Thailand has tried to kick off the idea of moving forward the FTA agreement of Asia Pacific members. This is the revival of an idea that was brought up in Apec more than 10 years ago. It was suggested by the Apec Advisory Group — ABAC, the private sector. However, over the last decade, not much progress has been made on the FTA Asia Pacific. In order to help members recover from the economic situation from the pandemic, they all realised that having lockdowns and closed borders is not going to help. They recognised the importance of open trade, and the FTA Asia Pacific is one outcome that can support Open trade. So in May this year, when we organised the ministers responsible for trade meetings, the issue was discussed by Apec members and they all supported the idea. They believe that it's positive to move forward the FTA Asia Pacific. However, because Apec comprises 21 economies — both developed and developing countries — they have different levels of economic development, so their ideas may be different. That is why, Thailand’s Ministry of Commerce held discussions with members at the senior official meetings. We are trying to formulate a four-year work plan to realise the FTA Asia-Pacific and this work plan will be endorsed at the AMM meetings.
Q: What about Asean? Are there any matters of concern related to Apec?
A: Apec is a cooperation forum where members can exchange views and ideas, in order to come up with best practices for members. Of the 21 Apec economies, only some members are from Asean. So we are individual countries, we are not talking in terms of Asean. Because, for example, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar are not Apec members, however, there are various issues related to trade that members can bring up for discussion.
Q: In the end what is the DTN’s plan for expanding Thailand’s trade and investment and also cooperation between Thailand and the 20 other Apec economies?
A: My department takes care of Thailand’s FTA negotiations — launching new FTAs, as well as trying to implement the existing FTAs. We already have FTA agreements with most of the Apec members. At present, Thailand has 14 FTAs with 18 trading partners. We have FTAs with Asean, China, Japan, South Korea for example, Australia, New Zealand. There are still countries in Apec with whom Thailand does not have an FTA yet, countries such as the US, Canada and Mexico. So, when we are talking about creating an FTA Asia Pacific, we believe that it will also provide additional benefits to Thailand, because it will be an opportunity for Thailand to discuss FTA with the countries that we haven’t had a deal with yet. At the same time my department is also involved in bilateral trade between Thailand and our trading partners so we could also take the opportunities to discuss bilateral trade, to enhance our trade and investment, cooperation, and expansion and there are some countries that we have already set up schedules for ministers to meet during the Apec Summit.
Q: How do you see the conclusion of this Apec Summit on November 19?
A: This is a good question. I think there will be a statement issued at the level of AMM meetings as well as at the leaders' meetings. The statement certainly will cover all the main issues that members have discussed since the beginning of the year when Thailand became Apec host. It will cover three main areas: Open. Connect. Balance. Regarding Open, members have already discussed how to move forward towards an Asia Pacific FTA. I’m sure it will be covered in the statements. Members also have discussed Connect. How to reconnect after facing the Covid-19 crisis? Also there will be a statement on Balance and the BCG model and how members support the Bio-Circular-Green economy.
Q: Do you think there will be more trade and investment in BCG after the summit?
A: I think so. We can see that this idea has been discussed amongst Apec economies. Various countries have also demonstrated that they also have these policies and they implement green policies and they are trying to move forward in order to tackle climate change. They are also trying to add value to their products by doing recycling, so I think this is a trend between international forums. And like I mentioned to you, the Ministry of Commerce is also involved as we are showcasing the products of Thailand which are aligned with the BCG model. We are also showcasing products that we can use and reuse waste and create new value-added products. This has been organised by the Department of International Trade Promotions.
Q: Do you think that there will be any obstacles to reach an agreement between members, considering serious differences between some members?
A: I think at the working level we are trying to finalise it, trying to get endorsement and support of Apec economies. So we have to wait and see.
Q: If you could choose, what would be an ideal outcome of the meeting?
A: I hope that Thailand will benefit from the meeting. I hope that Thai people and the private sector can perhaps utilise what we have discussed in the Apec Summit and put it to good use and be able to network with Apec economies. If they can engage in more trade with our trading partners and enhance their revenue, it will generate income for the country and also move Thailand’s economy and society forward in a more sustained way