Trade accord with India by mid-year, says Thai minister (Interview)

January 26th, 2012 - 2:11 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 26 (IANS) India and Thailand hope to conclude a far-reaching duty-free agreement by the middle of this year that will help double bilateral trade to $14 billion by 2014, Thai Industry Minister M.R. Pongsvas Svasti has said.

“Previously, we had tariff exemption for only 80 items or so. This year, we will add many more,” the minister said, referring to the framework accord signed by the two countries in 2004 that called for an “early harvest” tariff-free import and export on 82 items.

“So, you can have many hundred items on that list that can be traded without any tariff. That makes it very easy to double two-way trade,” Svasti, who is member of a high-level delegation here led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, told IANS in an interview.

Shinawatra was the chief guest at this year’s Republic Day celebrations Jan 26.

The proposed bilateral free trade agreement being negotiated by the two sides will include goods, services and investment. Svasti, an academic-turned-politician, said both governments were targeting to double their bilateral trade to $14 billion by 2014 from around $6.8 billion.

“I am enthusiastic about our economic relations. I am looking forward to increase interaction among the businesses of both sides. We are also opening our Board of Investment office in Mumbai this year,” said Svasti.

“The board office will be the first in India. This apart, we also plan to set up an investor forum and a CEO forum. This will be one of the driving forces for businesses on both sides. I am really very excised about the trade prospects of our two sides.”

The senior minister explained that that the Board of Investment acts as a facilitator for getting inward capital into his country, apart from helping the Thai businesses community that wants to put its money in other countries.

Svasti, who was formally endorsed as industry minister by the Thai king only on Jan 18, also said industry on both sides must be pragmatic and must not look at relations from a narrow prism. His remark was in response to the worries over Thai imports expressed by the Indian auto industry.

“We have to build on the strength of each country. In Thailand, for example, we are very strong in electronics and auto industries. India is strong in chemicals, petrochemicals. So we have to build on strengths for the trade agreement to progress well,” he said.

“That is the key,” said the minister who just quit his teaching job at Thammasat University and as the director of the university’s College of Social Innovation.

The senior minister also tried to assure prospective investors into Thailand not to be unduly worried over the devastation caused by the ravaging floods last year that crippled economic activity and lowered the country’s gross domestic product growth.

“Our cabinet has approved a $11-billion plan for water management in Thailand and creation of specific infrastructure for the purpose. We can assure all investors businesses won’t be affected by any such event in the future.”

(James Jose and Rohit Vaid can be reached at biz@ians.in)

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