Thailand will take until September to study whether to join a trans-Pacific free trade agreement, potentially missing a window for entry this year amid widespread concern that joining the pact may harm its farm and healthcare sectors.
The Commerce ministry has said joining the 11-member Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) would boost the country’s economy and offset the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, while making sectors including electronics and agriculture more competitive against rivals like Vietnam and Malaysia, both CPTPP members.
Opposition parties and some civil groups oppose membership, saying tariff-free access to other CPTPP members could lead to a flood of agricultural and pharmaceutical imports and hurt those industries in Thailand.
A parliamentary committee will study the costs and benefits of the CPTPP by mid-July. But the committee needs two more months to finish its study, chairman Werakorn Khumprakob told Reuters.
The commerce minister will not propose CPTPP membership to the cabinet if people cannot agree on it, the minister’s advisor Mallika Boonmeetrakool Mahasook told Reuters.
The study committee has said it will be open to public opinions on CPTPP membership.
Business groups on commerce, industry and banking have said Thailand should take part in the talks this year, which start on Aug 5.
The CPTPP was originally known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which fell apart when the United States — its main architect — withdrew in early 2017.
Member countries, including Japan and Canada, signed the CPTPP deal in 2018 without the United States.