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Thailand Plans to Join Pacific Trade Talks When Obama Visits

Thailand plans to formally enter talks on a U.S.-led Pacific region trade deal when President Barack Obama visits the country next week, government spokesman Tosaporn Sererak told reporters.

Thailand would become the 12th country to join negotiations in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Obama’s top trade priority. Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy would be the fifth country in the talks that does not already have a free-trade agreement with the U.S., along with New Zealand, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

“It represents new market access for American companies,” Deborah K. Elms, head of the Temasek Foundation Centre for Trade & Negotiations in Singapore, said by e-mail. “Thailand really must be involved in the TPP for its own economic interests. You cannot have aspirations of being part of the supply chains in Asia, especially, if you are not part of the TPP as it gets up and running.”

Obama is seeking to expand trade ties with Asia-Pacific countries as part of a so-called pivot to the region to counter China’s growing economic and military might. He plans to visit Thailand on Nov. 18 as part of his first foreign trip since his re-election that also includes stops in Myanmar and Cambodia.

The TPP expanded to 11 nations this year after Mexico and Canada were invited to join, representing about a third of global economic output. The other countries include Australia, Chile, Peru and Singapore.

2006 Collapse

Thailand has signed trade agreements with all TPP members except for the U.S., Canada and Mexico, Pakdiharn Himathongkham, a deputy government spokesman, told reporters yesterday. About 18 months of bilateral trade negotiations with the U.S. broke down in 2006 after political discord in Thailand led to a coup later that year.

Thailand has been on the U.S. government’s list of the world’s worst infringers of intellectual-property rights each year since 2007, when it announced plans to issue so-called compulsory licenses for drugs made by companies such as Abbott Laboratories and Merck & Co.

TPP negotiators plan to meet next month in New Zealand for the 15th round of talks, which are confidential. The U.S. Congress signaled its discontent with the TPP negotiation process in June, with 132 lawmakers telling U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk in a letter they were “troubled that important policy decisions are being made without full input from Congress.”

Japan is also considering whether to join the TPP talks, a move opposed by Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Chrysler LLC who say the country’s auto market needs to be more open to international competition.

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