Turkey and Thailand working on FTA - what will this mean for their future trade?

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Thailand and Turkey want ink on a free trade deal as early as next year, but what's in it for them both?

Turkey and Thailand are working on a free trade agreement that they aim to sign as early as 2020, it has been revealed.

What will this mean for trade between the two nations and why is it important to them? Here, we'll take a closer look at the potential deal and its repercussions in more detail.

Background to a deal

Speaking at a ceremony in Ankara, Thailand's ambassador to Turkey Phantipha Iamsudha Ekahorit said negotiations for a FTA were launched two years ago and are currently ongoing in Bangkok.

"We hope by next year, we will be able to conclude the talks and sign the free trade agreement, which will cover goods. The two countries are collaborating to further strengthen and enhance these [bilateral] ties in all potential areas," she told Daily Sabah.

According to the ambassador, signing an agreement could boost trade between the two nations by up to 40 per cent.

Last year, bilateral trade stood at $1.6 billion (€1.4 billion), but Thai exports to Turkey well outweighed those going the opposite way.

Indeed, Thailand sent around $1.4 billion worth of products to Turkey in 2018, but Turkey only exported $278 million back, according to data from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat).

Turkey established diplomatic relations with Thailand back in 1958 and already has a number of legal deals in place with the Asian nation: the Trade Agreement (1987), the Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (1989), the Agreement on Prevention of Double Taxation (2002) and the Agreement on the Reciprocal Encouragement and Protection of Investments (2005).

However, both nations are now looking to boost this with a free trade deal, with the next meeting for negotiators set for April 2020.

Why is a deal important to Thailand?

Thailand struggled with political instability for a number of years, but the government is keen to increase its FTAs with key trading partners now the climate has stabilised.

This will help the nation rebuild its economy and achieve the goals set out in the Thailand 4.0 initiative, which include significantly increasing per capita income and boosting expenditure to four per cent of GDP by 2032.

With neighbouring countries having already signed a range of FTAs, Thailand is keen not to fall behind and let fresh opportunities slip by. 

It already aims to sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) next year and open up talks on a deal with the EU and a newly-separated UK.

Why is a deal important to Turkey?

Turkey was ranked as the fastest-growing economy of the G20 in 2017, having expanded at a faster rate than both China and India.

However, if it is to continue this momentum, Turkey knows it needs to keep attracting foreign investors and make international trade as easy as possible.

Two years ago, it became a sectoral dialogue partner for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a bloc that includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Access to this vast swathe of Asian countries is seen as crucial to other members of the world economy as they continue to develop and grow financially. Currently, the bloc collectively makes up the seventh-largest economy in the world, with a population of 622 million people.

However, due to the association's charter rules establishing full membership on geographical grounds, Turkey cannot become a full ASEAN member - so, in line with Turkey's proactive foreign policy, FTAs with other members are the next best thing.

What's next?

Although the deadline for signatures on a potential Thai-Turkish FTA has been given as 2020, details are extremely thin on the ground as to what it would actually entail.

For this reason, experts on global trade have suggested the date might be overly optimistic. However, Japan's recent establishment of improved trading ties with the US within two years has led others to suggest there might still be a chance of it happening.

This is one potential FTA where it's definitely worth watching this space.