BANGKOK, July 6 (Xinhuanet) -- The newly-inked Thai-Australian free trade agreement produced controversy and suspicion of partiality here on Tuesday.
The agreement which was expected to finally bring both countries gains of 3 billion US dollars was lambasted by activistsas the other tool to help Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's family profit from its telecom business.
The deal would help Thailand's largest communications company Shin Corporation Plc, which was founded by Thaksin, tap the Australian sector on price of millions of farmers losing their business, said Campaign for Media Reform.
Shin's Chief Executive Dumrong Kasemset, however, fiercely denied that his company would get any privilege from the free trade agreement with Australia.
He reportedly said his company had entered the Australian market seven years ago and so far had no plan to buy any share of companies opened by Australia to foreign investors.
Meanwhile, the admission for foreign investment in the Australian telecom companies was not officially included in the free trade agreement, newspaper The Nation quoted a senior official of the Thai negotiation team as saying.
According to the deal, Australia would lift tariffs over 83 percent imports from Thailand, including fruits, vegetables and automobiles, while Thailand would wipe out duties of 50 percent ofAustralian products including fuels and chemical products.
The agreement would come effective on January 1, 2005 and 95 percent of bilateral trades were expected to be truly free before 2010. Tariffs over sensitive sectors such as diary remained untouched for the time being.
Even so, opposition still criticized Thaksin and his government for failing to listen to public opinions during the negotiation and keep the process transparent to the public.
Small-scale protests of farmers have been carried on in past months around Thailand to ask the government hold hearing and meetings with activist representatives over the free trade negotiation with Australia and the United States.
Despite of the noise, the Thai government remained determined to push forward free trade negotiations and Thaksin earlier said that local producers should think how to improve their competence rather than grumble.
So far, Thailand was in negotiation with the United States and Japan over possible free trade deals.
"The government's strategy to expand Thailand's presence in theinternational market is a worthy and a needed one," commented an editorial published by Bangkok Post on Tuesday, one day after the Thai-Australian free trade agreement being signed.
"But convincing the public of the need to change and the benefits-and-risks-of moving beyond the status quo is equally important, and will require greater disclosure, transparency and tact than has been demonstrated to date," said the article. Enditem