Thailand to sign free trade agreement with Japan

Thailand will sign a free trade agreement with Japan when Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont visits the country next week, an official said Tuesday.

The Thai Cabinet gave approval during its weekly meeting for the deal to go ahead, paving the way for Surayud to sign the accord Monday at the start of a four-day trip to Japan, said Pisan Manawapat, a Foreign Ministry official who is chief negotiator for the Japan-Thai Economic Partnership Agreement.

The pact involves the reduction or removal of tariffs on a wide variety of goods shipped between the two countries.

Japan and Thailand reached a broad agreement in 2005 and a signing ceremony was supposed to take place in 2006. But the deal was delayed by a military coup in September that ousted then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Surayud was appointed by the military after the coup, reports AP.

Japan is Thailand's top export market and also its largest foreign investor, with trade between the two countries valued at 1.65 trillion baht, or the equivalent of US$44.1 billion, from January-December 2006.

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