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Thai PM Optimistic Over American Investment - 2001-12-15

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra remains optimistic American investors will return to Thailand despite sharply slowing economic growth. Mr. Thaksin, during an official visit to Washington, also said he wants to speed up implementation of a planned free trade area for China and Southeast Asia.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra points to Ford Motor Company's recent reaffirmation of plans for new investment in Thailand, as evidence of growing confidence by U.S. investors.

The Thai economy is struggling to achieve growth in 2001, with industrial utilization running at around 55 per cent and signs of rising unemployment. But Mr. Thaksin said Ford's planned $500 million investment in a Thai production hub is a good sign. "I feel confident that the investment from America will flow back to Thailand," he said. And also those who already invest will expand their investment in Thailand. For example, Ford Motor is moiving their production base for trucks, one ton, to Thailand as a production base to sell to other countries. I think that is another vote of confidence in Thailand. "

Mr. Thaksin, in a satellite link from Washington with reporters here in Bangkok, also said he is hoping to speed up implementation of a planned free trade area for China and South East Asia to boost regional growth. He said he hopes the plan can be implemented within two years, rather than the original 10 year schedule.

Thailand and other South East Asian nations are fearful China's economic expansion and its entry into the World Trade Organization will draw vital investment funds away to north Asia.

The free trade area would create a trillion dollar market covering China and the ten member Association of South East Asian Nations, with plans to expand and create free trade zones with India and Australia.

Mr. Thaksin is in the United States for a six-day official visit. Earlier Friday, he held talks with President Bush, which included discussion of economic cooperation.

During the current visit, Thailand and the United States have agreed on a framework for cooperation covering areas such as lower trade barriers, the promotion of private sector investment and protection of intellectual property rights.