Germany, EU keen to conclude FTA in 2 yrs

Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - Germany and the entire European Union are ready to provide maximum cooperation for conclusion of the Thai-EU free-trade agreement in two years' time, for a win-win scenario for both parties, German Ambassador to Thailand Rolf Schulze said.

Schulze realises that with some sensitive issues like alcohol and pharmaceuticals, the talks could take time. However, Germany and the EU are ready to help Thailand conclude the negotiations within two years, or before the Asean Economic Community (AEC) is activated in 2015.

"There are certain issues to look at. But the EU will go the extra mile to assist Thailand," he said during a recent interview.

"AEC will allow free flow of goods and services and investment. EU would like to be a part of that. This development is important to both sides."

The negotiations are expected to speed up after Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's delegation concludes its visit to Brussels, dubbed the EU capital. Thailand Trade Representative President Olarn Chaipravat has been named head of the Thai negotiating team, and he promised thorough discussions with interest groups on sensitive issues.

After the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) was signed earlier this month, Deputy Prime Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong set a timeframe to have the FTA negotiations concluded within two years.

The visit to Brussels followed Yingluck's visit to Berlin last June.

Thailand has signed FTAs with Peru, Japan, India, New Zealand and Australia. Another with Chile was endorsed by Parliament recently.

Schulze said the EU is working hard to create a win-win scenario - while Thailand's exports to the continent should increase, companies in the EU will be promised a greater presence in the Kingdom.

During the interview, he repeated "equal partnership" several times, indicating that some conditions would need to be softened, for the sake of others.

"We can't pick up some sectors and leave out some sectors. The talks must be comprehensive but the important philosophy is to be fair and equal," he said, adding that under the process, there will have to be some give and take.

Throughout the process, he assured that Germany would be of full assistance, even with the upcoming national election in September. No matter who wins the election, the "champion of EU" is ready to further support the negotiations.

"Germany has a keen interest in making PCA, FTA and AEC a success story," he said.

Within the EU, Germany is the biggest trading partner of Thailand. In 2012, exchange of goods and services reached nearly 10 billion euros. Nearly 600 German companies are doing business in and with Thailand.

There is a desire in the Kingdom to put the negotiations for a Thai-European Union free trade agreement on the fast track in case the EU ends its tax cuts for imports from Thailand.

The EU's generalised system of preferences (GSP) means more to the private sector than the Trans-Pacific Partnership with the US, said Chansak Fuangfu, senior executive vice president of Bangkok Bank.

Thailand faces the possibility of being graduated from tariff privileges under the GSP.


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