Minister clarifies French stand
FRENCH Minister for Foreign Trade Jacques Dondoux said Wednesday that angry Thai farmers had misunderstood the French with regards to the European Commission's decision to cut tax privileges for Thailand.
At the press conference on the final day of his three-day visit to Thailand, Dondoux was bombarded by questions relating to the Generalised System of Preferences tax concession. Thai farmers have launched a campaign against French products out of their dissatisfaction towards the European Commission's decision to end tax concessions on Thai farm goods since the beginning of this year.
Dondoux appeared to be affected by the sentiment. He said his mission to enhance bilateral relations with Thailand seemed to have run into some problems given the anti-French campaign following the GSP cuts.
''In this respect, we confirm that France has never taken a hostile position or affected Thai interests in the GSP issue.''
He said news on GSP in Thailand deviated from the fact that the decision came from the European Commission and not the French government alone.
Dondoux said the GSP was not an obstacle to trade because Thai exports to France last year increased by 18 per cent whereas Thailand imported 33 per cent less from France, indicating that Thailand is facing serious economic problems.
A group of 18 farmers' associations have earlier accused EU of protectionism. They also launched a campaign against EU products, especially French, as well as placing advertisements in local papers to air their anger towards the EU.
Dondoux said he understood that most of the angry protesters were shrimp farmers. He also noted that Thailand's decision to impose higher tariffs had not led to protests in France.
Dondoux is on an official visit to Thailand, heading a delegation of more than 45 members including members of the French parliament, top executives of French industries, media representatives and senior civil servants, to meet with Thai ministers.
Dondoux also said that a committee will meet in May to discuss France's possible contributions to Thailand's telecommunications sector.
''France will bring forward its experience in liberalising its telecom sector, in particular regarding the creation of a regulatory authority,'' Dondoux said.
Doudoux expressed the French government's support for the economic reforms implemented by the Thai government. He called the reforms ''historic in scope'' and said Franco-Thai cooperation will expand in agro-industries, particularly aquaculture.
A special loan has been approved to help Thai railway projects which could amount to $15 million.
He said French support is best translated by an open export credit policy and by the eligibility of Thailand to French soft loans which are granted to a short list of countries.
The minister also underlined the fact that French banks are ranked third among the foreign creditors of Thailand. The EU is also the first contributor to the International Monetary Fund, especially in the rescue package for Thailand. The visit was an opportunity to strengthen economic cooperation in several significant aspects.
BY THANONG KHANTHONG