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Cablegate: Corrected Copy: Thai-Chinese Trade Talks Aim High - Some

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


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Corrected Copy (adding addressee)

1. Summary. Thai and Chinese officials charted an ambitious
five-year "strategic economic partnership" during the Second Meeting of the Joint Committee on Trade, Investment and Economic
Cooperation in Chiang Mai September 21-23. While news
accounts headlined "Chinese investment to surge", some warned against tilting too much toward China and questioned whether the
large growth targets are viable. End summary

2. Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce Somkid Jatusripitak and Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi signed an agreement September 22 to increase bilateral trade to US $50 billion by 2010, from $15 billion in 2004. The two also pledged to set a two-way investment target of US $6.5 billion and to increase
two-way tourism to four million visitors, all by 2010. Most of
the agreements were pre-arranged, with the official events providing a high-profile setting for Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to promote Thailand as a "gateway of ASEAN" and a "center of the Greater Mekong Subregion".

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3. The Chinese Vice Premier's highly anticipated visit coincided with Chiang Mai's second major flood of the season, somewhat wounding the image of international host that the Prime Minister
wanted to convey. As military trucks transported participants
to the flood-water-encircled Sheraton Hotel, a series of discussions and meetings drew the Thai Ministers of Commerce, Transport and Agriculture, officials from the Ministry of Energy and 164 representatives of the public and private sector, including CP Group, the Shinawatra family's Shin Corporation, Thai PTT, the State Railway of Thailand, Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, Thailand Tobacco Monopoly and Saha Patanapibul.

Chinese Delegation

4. Chinese officials included Deputy Premier Wu Yi, Minister of Commerce Bo Xilai, Minister Wang Zhongfu of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, Minister Li Changjiang of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, Deputy Secretary General of the State Council Xu Shaoshi, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Wu Dawei, and Shao Qiwei, head of the National Tourism Administration. The 51-strong Chinese business side was represented by CITIC Group , China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corp., China National Offshore Oil Corp., China Worldbest Group Co.Ltd., the Export -Import Bank of China, Chongqing Lifan Industry (Group), and China Resources (Holding) Co.,Ltd.

5. According to Thai statistics, China currently ranks as Thailand's third largest trade partner after the U.S. and Japan,
taking about 7.6 percent of total Thai exports. In January
2005, Thailand held eleventh place among China's trade partners,
supplying 2.11 percent of total Chinese imports. Thailand
exports computers and accessories, plastic beads used in making plastic products, natural rubber, chemical products, and tapioca
to China. China exports electrical equipment, computers, metal
and steel, machinery and chemical products to Thailand. In
2004, Thailand ran a trade deficit with China of US $1.027 billion, rising to US $1.572 billion in the first half of 2005.

"Snuggling up to China"
6. Despite overall enthusiasm for increased trade and investment, some Thai media pointed out that Thailand is at a disadvantage in dealing with its giant neighbor. Thai-language "Post Today" acknowledged that close economic ties will bring benefits, but at a price: "the domestic market must brace itself for a massive influx of low-cost Chinese goods~has the government thoroughly thought through the pros and cons of these
trade agreements with China?" The English-language "Nation"
warned that "establishing closer relations with China is important, yet it should not be done in such a way that harms Thailand's overall relations with other strategic partners, such as Japan or the United States~ snuggling up to China may be an understandable tactical move. But putting all of its eggs in the Chinese basket may be unwise~"

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7. One prominent local businessman who attended the business discussions labeled the goal of increasing trade an average of
$7 billion per year "not believable." As the owner of a rice mill in Chiang Rai and Chairman of the Upper Northern Chambers of Commerce Committee for Economic Quadrangle Development, Anan Laothamatat doubted that China would increase imports of Thai
fragrant rice from 200,000 to 500,000 tons in 2006. Anan
criticized the Thai government as "unaware" of what happens in China, pointing out that Chinese importers and distributors mix Thai fragrant rice with low grade rice and then blame the low
quality on the Thai exporters. He also noted that the world
market price of rice is lower than the artificial price set by the Thai government; Chinese importers are unlikely to buy Thai rice unless the Thai government subsidizes prices in order to raise exports and pacify farmers.

8. As the high level officials touted increased investment, trade and tourism, no one mentioned the inconveniently mixed record of the bilateral "Early Harvest" agreement that reduced tariffs on fruits and vegetables to zero starting October 2003.
Both sides claim to have gotten the short end of the two-year-old agreement: the Chinese Consul General in Chiang Mai minced no words in telling the U.S. CG that "it is a loss for China." For their part, Thai farmers complain that local garlic and onion prices have collapsed because of cheaper produce from China while exporters regularly protest China's use
of non-tariff barriers to restrict Thai imports (ref c). Even
the President of Rachamangala University of Technology, in an unrelated conversation with the U.S. CG several days after the trade summit, complained about the damage being done by cheap Chinese goods. In the course of demonstrating a student-invented garlic peeling machine, the President told the CG that Thailand must hurry to produce more such devices to help farmers compete against produce from China. Fingering his tie, the President said "this cost 25 baht in Guilin; it would be 100
baht ($2.50) here". The new trade agreements were likely to
make the situation worse, he observed.

Fast Track Handling for Agricultural Products
--------------------------------------------- -----------
9. As part of the September 22 agreements, China agreed to boost Thai agricultural exports by providing "fast track"
handling for Thai agricultural products in Tianjin, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Notably for local boosters, nothing was said about the road being built from Jinghong to Chiang Khong or the potential impact of the Mekong river trade, issues of great significance to northern Thai business people who hope that growing relations with Kunming province will open the door to China trade. (Note: Many academic and business seminars in northern Thailand have been devoted to discussions of Mekong ports, bridges, and industrial zones, based on the proposition that transporting goods via the Mekong will become the most cost effective and efficient trade route between China and Southeast

10. While acknowledging that high Thai expectations for win-win deals with China might be unrealistic, Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce member Nit Wangwiwat pointed out that Thai-Chinese business people feel at ease doing business with the Chinese because of shared cultural ties. He described Thailand's hopes for a Chinese economic boom as a function of the Thai penchant to swim with the tide. Chiang Rai businessman Anan Laothamatat, also Thai-Chinese, took a more negative view, worrying that ethnic Chinese-Thai business people and the Thai government mistakenly believe that China favors Thailand over other ASEAN countries.

11. Comment: By arranging for high profile trade,
investment, and economic talks in Chiang Mai, Prime Minister Thaksin was able to combine several cherished goals: positioning Thailand as an ASEAN gateway and Greater Mekong hub, cultivating stronger ties with China, and shining a spotlight on his
hometown. Although some business people and media raised
questions about the wisdom of Thailand becoming too dependent on the huge power to the north, their voices were submerged in the flood of official Thai enthusiasm for more investment, trade and tourism with China.

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