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Saturday, Aug 10, 2002

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Thailand wants FTA put on fast track

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INDIA and Thailand should expedite establishment of free trade area and mutually exploit the investment potential available in areas such as tourism and information technology, according to Mr Bandhit Sotipalalit, Ambassador of Thailand to India.

Thailand is interested in expediting the Free Trade Agreement, and this could be kicked off in stages with agreements reached fast in areas where there are no problems, and in stages in areas where greater discussions are needed, he said.

Indo-Thai trade was at a low $1 billion per year despite a common tradition that goes back several centuries. While the reason for the low growth could be traced back to the cold war years, there was no reason for both the countries to hold back now. Thailand was looking increasingly at international relationships, for instance, its trade with South Africa, which began five years ago, has touched $500 million per year.

Thailand was looking to increased trade relationship with India, particularly with Tamil Nadu and the South. The Thailand Government is hoping to introduce direct flights by its national carrier to Chennai, and has initiated discussions with the Civil Aviation Ministry, and efforts are on to open a consulate here, he said addressing the India-ASEAN-Sri Lanka Chamber of Commerce and Industryon Friday.

Thailand has major strength in information technology, including hardware and software. India was strong in software. This could be utilised to achieve synergies. The major exports by both the countries are in similar industries such as precious stones and automobile components, the common areas could be strengthened through cooperation. Tourism is another major area of interest.

India will have to address the infrastructure bottlenecks to encourage influx of Thai tourists. With the major centres of Buddhism located here, India could exploit these to attract the Thais, 90 per cent of whom are Buddhists. But the arrivals are low, about 20,000 per year, because of the lack of facilities. For instance, to Bodhgaya (of religious significance for Buddhists), there are no flights available, road travel conditions are poor and hotels of five-star standards are not available. The costs are also high, with an equivalent travel to China costing just half of that involved in visiting India. Road and traffic conditions were another major area of concern, said Mr Sotipalalit.

The Indian industry could look at setting up hotel and restaurant facilities in Thailand. While more than 1,00,000 Indians visit Thailand annually, those particular about Indian or vegetarian food find it hard. Potential investors could look at not just Bangkok, but also other areas like Pattaya, he said.

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