Dechen Dolkar

The government of Bhutan and Thailand agreed to sign a bilateral trade agreement.

The two countries have a trade and economic cooperation agreement as of now.

The decision was made during the fourth Joint Trade Committee Meeting (JTCM) on April 27 and 28 in Phuket, Thailand.

However, officials from the Department of Trade (DoT) said that signing the bilateral trade agreement would depend on the progress of the negotiations between the two countries.

“Relevant agencies of the two countries have already initiated the groundwork. The Thai government has assured that the process from their side will be expedited,” an official said.

Officials also said authorities in Thailand would expedite pest risk analysis (PRA) for Bhutanese potatoes and apples so that they could import it.

It was learnt that the PRA for apples has already started.

PRA is a form of risk analysis conducted by regulatory plant health authorities to identify the appropriate phytosanitary measures required to protect plant resources against new or emerging pests and regulated pests of plants or plant products.

The competent authority within Bhutan is the Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA).

Authorities of Thailand had maintained in the past that the export of Bhutanese apples, potatoes and mandarin to Thailand can only be undertaken after the completion of PRA.

The agriculture ministry requested for the PRA to be carried out on these three commodities in December 2020.

DoT officials said that relevant authorities in Thailand told them that it takes considerable time to complete each PRA given the resource constraints and similar requests from several countries at the same time to complete PRAs.

“It was informed that PRA for apple has reached the final stage and a team of quarantine experts from the department of agriculture, Thailand would be required to visit Bhutan to conduct the risk management to complete the PRA process,” an official said.

Trade officials said that Bhutan requested Thailand to expedite conducting PRA of the three products within this year itself and to prioritise potato.

Bhutan was assured market access in Thailand for more than 7000 items of Bhutanese agricultural and non-agricultural exports under the duty free quota free scheme (DFQF) for least developed countries.

Meanwhile, trade officials also said that honey, quinoa, asparagus, buckwheat, lemongrass oil, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, cordyceps and mushroom could be exported to Thailand after fulfilling the sanitary and phytosanitary requirements.

They said honey can be exported to Thailand after fulfilling the phytosanitary certificate (PSC) issued by the BAFRA.

Officials said that until the bilateral trade agreement is signed, Bhutanese private sector is encouraged to explore opportunities and potential of exporting under the duty free quota free scheme as such exports will not attract a duty or tariff, thereby making our products relatively competitive within the Thai market.

The two countries also agreed to enhance total bilateral trade to USD 120M by 2025 and renew the existing memorandum of understanding on tourism and handicraft cooperation.

According to officials, the Thai government agreed to collaborate and support in establishing a geographical indication system in Bhutan and extend invitations to Bhutanese entrepreneurs and private sector to participate in various international or national trade fairs and related events to be held in Thailand in 2022.

Thailand was recorded as Bhutan’s fourth-largest trading partner in 2020 and 2021.