Thailand agreed to join a US-led regional trade pact as President Barack Obama propped up his “pivot to Asia” during his visit to the south-east Asian country.
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, speaking at a joint press conference following bilateral talks with Mr. Obama, announced plans to join the 11-member Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact, saying it was necessary for Thailand to take the “free and fair markets” road to economic growth.
The trade pact aims to bolster the Obama administration’s policy priority of expanding regional trade and investment as well as security ties in the face of a rising China.
However, ASEAN members raised concerns that the trade pact would undermine the ASEAN Economic Community which it plans to launch by 2015 in the hope of eliminating trade barriers and promoting movement of labour, Financial Times reports.
Mr. Obama’s visit coincides with that of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as Thailand seeks to deepen defense cooperation with the US. Topics on the agenda include greater interoperability and joint efforts to counter terrorism and address natural disasters.
“US strategists believe Thailand is an important element of a mosaic of Asian countries critical to America’s long-term security objectives,” according to Vikram Nehru of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Mr. Obama is expected to make a historic visit to Myanmar on Monday and will attend the East Asia Summit in Cambodia.