Thai premier heralds a further decade of deeper cooperation between China and the 10 member ASEAN bloc based on combating a common public health threat following the COVID-19 emergency and linking the Chinese Silk Road initiative with efforts within the ASEAN bloc to harmonise and improve interconnectivity between member countries.
Thailand, on Saturday, called for wider and deeper co-operation between the 10 nation ASEAN bloc and China in a programme to counteract the public health threat from COVID-19 and other potential diseases that may emerge in the future, as well as a basis to kickstart economic regeneration. The call came as the Thai PM was speaking at the launch of the 18th China-ASEAN Expo in Nanning City, the capital of the Guangxi region of Southern China.
The Thai Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, on Saturday, issued a statement to celebrate the China ASEAN Expo in Nanning City, in southern China near the border with Vietnam.
He was joined by the leaders of Laos, Brunei, Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan and Vietnam via a teleconference system in which he spoke of enhanced cooperation between ASEAN and China over the next decade.
Called for a decade long plan to strengthen public health security between ASEAN and China
The online meeting of leaders heard the prime minister call for a decade-long plan for cooperation between the countries involved to strengthen public health security to cope with the ongoing COVID-19 threat and the possibility of other emerging diseases in the future.
He said this should include the research and development of safe vaccines and antiviral drugs as well as the organisation of a vaccine production and distribution network across ASEAN countries.
The kingdom’s head of government said he foresaw the stronger relationship also extending into trade including plans to develop and upgrade the ASEAN – China Free Trade Area and ongoing efforts to bring the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement into force.
Thailand and China are parties to the gigantic Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) currently being ratified by member states
This trade agreement which is now agreed upon but needs to be triggered, by the ratification of participating members, covers the 10 nations of the ASEAN community and 5 other countries including China, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand and Japan.
The trade pact includes 30% of the world’s population with 2.2 billion people and 30% of its GDP at $26.2 trillion based on 2020 figures.
At present, only four countries have ratified the pact including China, Japan, Singapore and Cambodia.
It requires 6 of the 10 nation ASEAN bloc and 3 of the other 5 members of the agreement to come into force.
Greater opportunities for the digital economy and entrepreneurship can be opened by co-operation
General Prayut also called for work on plans to develop ASEAN connectivity and the Chinese Silk Road initiative to be pursued.
This would help to strengthen regional supply chains leading to renewed growth in investment and trade.
He said enhanced regional co-operation on this basis could also lead to greater capacity to develop entrepreneurship in the rising digital economy by providing it with stronger access to funding, technology and growth opportunities.
Thailand moving more into China’s orbit after stalling a decision on the CPTPP and signalling a free trade pact with Hong Kong in May this year
In May, Thailand announced that it was ready to sign a free trade pact with Hong Kong following an earlier move to postpone a decision on applying to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), news which was interpreted as a further indication that the kingdom was drifting towards Beijing’s orbit in terms of trade and economic development.
The latest statement by the Prime Minister comes as Thailand is still considering whether to apply to become a member of the rival CPTPP pact, an agreement between Pacific rim countries that excludes China but may soon include the United Kingdom which is already in intensive negotiations to become a member of that pact.
Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) poses substantial challenges for Thailand’s economy
This trade agreement which would impose more demanding terms and conditions, extending beyond trade, is being carefully studied and faces opposition within the kingdom from special interest groups and activists who have raised very real and substantive issues concerning its impact on the domestic economy quite apart from geopolitical considerations
In August, Thailand announced an initiative to strengthen its trade ties with Australia on a bilateral basis which would see deeper cooperation in a revised Thailand-Australia Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), an upgrade of the trade pact which came into force on January 1st 2005.
Australian Thai free trade to be developed bilaterally based on the 2005 pact between the countries
The news came following a teleconference meeting between Thailand’s Minister of Commerce, Jurin Laksanawisit and Australia’s Minister of Trade, Tourism and Investment, Mr Dan Tehan.
Planners within the Ministry of Commerce have identified seven key areas where the kingdom would like to see deeper and more meaningful engagement with Australia including food processing and agriculture, tourism, healthcare, education, e-commerce, film, audiovisual and advertising industry services as well as energy and the prospect of joint ventures.
Thailand established diplomatic ties with Australia in 1952 and its police services have very close relationships in combating drug trafficking from the Golden Triangle region.
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The new pact would aim to reduce tariffs on more areas of trade between the two countries but would also work on initiatives to improve investment opportunities, bring about a more liberal market for services and new measures aimed at protecting the environment.
Thailand to ratify the RCEP this year
Both countries are part of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Thailand is expected to ratify this agreement before the end of 2021.
In 2020, two-way trade between the countries was worth $13.2 billion or ฿429 billion with Thailand enjoying a trade surplus of $6.52 billion or ฿211.9 billion.
This year has seen a rise in two-way trade between Thailand and Australia with $8.42 billion or ฿273.65 billion in trade achieved in the first six months to the end of June 2021.