Mon, Jul 23, 2018 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Lack of FTA no bar to cooperation, Thai representative says

It is unlikely that Thailand will offer reciprocal visa-free treatment to Taiwanese, but the Thailand Trade and Economic Office will provide a more convenient, outsourced visa application service starting in September, office Executive Director Thongchai Chasawath said in an interview with ‘Taipei Times’ reporter Stacy Hsu and ‘Liberty Times’ reporter Lu Yi-hsuan

Thailand Trade and Economic Office Executive Director Thongchai Chasawath gestures during an interview on Wednesday.

Photo: Huang Yao-cheng, Taipei Times

Taiwan’s lack of free-trade agreements (FTA) with several Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, has been seen as a challenge for President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) New Southbound Policy. What do you think could be done to facilitate the signing of an FTA between Taiwan and Thailand?

Thongchai Chasawath: This matter concerns many political factors, so it is a bit tricky for us to sign an FTA with Taiwan. That does not only go for Thailand; you also face a similar problem with many other countries.

So what should we do? There are actually many other things that we can do. We should not limit our ideas to a fixed framework or box.

Despite the lack of an FTA with us, Taiwan can still take advantage of the platform provided by APEC or invest in Thailand. If you think it is beneficial to you, you can also consider offering one-way incentives.

Why hold back from this option simply because Thailand cannot offer you the same thing in return? There should be some flexibility.

Taiwan recently extended its trial period of visa-free privileges for Thai nationals for another year. Your predecessor last year indicated that there was a possibility of a reciprocal measure. What is the latest development?

Chasawath: Many people have asked me about this, but we have our considerations. To be honest, Taiwan is also benefiting from its measure to grant Thai citizens visa-free entry.

You must have come to that decision after realizing the potential benefits. If that is the case, why make Thailand offer reciprocal treatment? Why [say that] the visa-free arrangement could be canceled next year if we do not? If you cancel it, the number of Thai tourists to Taiwan could plummet by 150,000.

You should simply do what you think is best for your people and there is no need to ask for reciprocity.

The same is the case in Thailand: We offer visa-free privileges to more than 70 nations, while our own people enjoy visa-free entry to just more than 30 countries, but we do not make a fuss about this.

Another thing I want to point out is that the provision of visa-free privileges will inevitably have some downsides, such as illegal immigrants and undocumented workers. However, those only account for a fraction of the whole and we should avoid giving up the entire forest just for one tree.

Is Thailand mulling offering alternative visa privileges to Taiwanese?

Chasawath: Taiwanese can expect a huge change in the application process for Thai visas in September.

Starting in early or mid-September, while the application times at my office will remain the same, we will begin outsourcing the work to a private firm. The firm is to set up service centers in Taipei and Kaohsiung, where they will accept applications from 9am to 5pm.

They will charge a service fee of about NT$400 to NT$500 per case, but it is certainly better than taking a leave of absence to come down here [to the Thailand Trade and Economic Office] and waiting in line for hours.

We are also going digital. The firm to which we are outsourcing the process is also building a system, that is expected to be ready by the end of this year, but I am hoping for September. The system will allow applicants to fill out their applications online and then mail their passports to us. They will also be able to track the location of their passport and the status of their application.

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