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Early start of FTA negotiations eludes Japan, Thailand.

BANGKOK, May 21 Kyodo

Japan and Thailand appear unlikely to agree on an early start of formal negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) in June when Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra visits Japan, Japanese officials said Tuesday.

The outlook emerged during the fifth and last working group meeting between the two nations held in Bangkok on Monday and Tuesday, primarily on Japan's concern a bilateral FTA would deal a severe blow to its tightly protected farm sector, the officials said.

Thailand, a major farm producer, wants to export more agricultural products to Japan such as chicken, tapioca and sugar, while shelving the issue of opening up Japan's rice market given the political sensitivity involved on the part of Japan.

''We still hope we can start negotiation in June and conclude it by the end of the year,'' said Pisan Manawapat, director general of the Thai Foreign Ministry's International Economic Affairs Department.

Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is worried FTA talks with Thailand would have unfavorable effects on Tokyo's ongoing FTA talks with Mexico, expected to be concluded in October, a ministry official said.

The ministry insists both countries set up a panel of experts from industry, government and academia to explore merits and demerits of signing a bilateral FTA. Japan held such study panel talks with Singapore and Mexico before starting formal FTA negotiations.

Thailand has also expressed strong interest in enhancing the mobility of businesspeople, especially enabling Thai masseurs to work in Japan. But the country is reluctant to liberalize its own services and investment sectors.

Tokyo's requests associated with these sectors include the freeing up of the Thai telecom industry to enable Japanese companies to bid on government procurement contracts and Thailand's dropping of technology transfers as a requirement for investment privileges.

Meanwhile, three main Japanese business lobbies jointly issued a statement Tuesday urging Tokyo to enter negotiations with Thailand for concluding an FTA in June when Thaksin meets Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in Tokyo.

Japan has an FTA with Singapore and is now in negotiations with Mexico for a similar arrangement. It is also mulling signing one with South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Thailand has an FTA with Bahrain and intends to conclude FTAs with such countries as China and India.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:May 27, 2003
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