Thailand sees free trade deal with Australia by May


BANGKOK, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Thailand expects to seal a free trade agreement (FTA) with Australia by May and finish off negotiations with the United States and China by 2005, senior government officials said on Wednesday.

Thailand and Australia, which announced a deal in principle last October, still had to work out a dispute settlement mechanism and certain rules governing investors, said Karoon Kittisathaporn, Permanent Secretary at the Commerce Ministry.

"If we could finish off all the issues in early March, I think we could sign the agreement in May," he told reporters at a trade seminar in Bangkok.

He said the signing could coincide with a planned May visit to Australia by Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thailand is Australia's 12th-largest export market, taking vehicles, aluminium, cotton, copper, wool and dairy goods, and the 13th-largest source of imports, such as seafood, heating and cooling equipment, computers and crude petroleum.

The deal includes the removal of an 80 percent tariff on large-car exports, halving tariffs on medium-sized passenger vehicles, and upfront tariff cuts on wine.

The deal will substantially improve access for Australian dairy products, beef and pork, and axe tariffs on wheat and bakery products, wool, cotton, lead, zinc and aluminium.

In turn, Thailand will gain improved access for its textile and clothing exports to Australia and preferential access for its light trucks.

Thailand also expects to finalise free trade pacts with China, the United States, India and Peru by 2005, said Apiradi Tantraporn, Director General of the Department of Trade Negotiations.

Thailand has a limited FTA with China that covers fruit and vegetables.

Talks on a broader deal with China may begin as early as April, while negotiations with the United States could get underway in June, Apiradi said.



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