BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s prime minister said on Tuesday he had told officials to prepare for changes in U.S. trade policy under President Donald Trump, but it was too soon for the big exporter to worry.
As in other Asian countries which run large trade surpluses with the United States, concern has spread in Thailand since Trump last week said he had ordered a study of the causes of U.S. trade deficits.
“We should take it easy as there are no formal words about that yet,” junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters.
“I have asked deputy prime ministers and relevant agencies to look into it as we have to be prepared ... but don’t worry too much about that now.”
Thailand ran a surplus of about $18 billion in trade with the United States last year, the Thai commerce ministry says.
That puts it 11th globally - well behind China’s $347 billion surplus or even nearby Vietnam’s $32 billion - but the United States is Thailand’s biggest export destination at a time the military government is struggling rekindle growth.
At a meeting in Bangkok on Monday, a senior U.S. trade official set out the Trump administration’s trade agenda, the Office of the United States Trade Representative said.
Topics of discussion included “barriers to U.S. exports to Thailand related to customs, agriculture, intellectual property, labor, financial services, and other issues,” it said.
Commerce Minister Apiradi Tantraporn said the ministry would meet businesses this week to discuss the potential impact of Trump administration policies, but it was sticking to its export growth target of 5 percent for now.
Thailand’s top five export goods to the United States last year were computers and computer parts, rubber products, jewelry, radio and television receivers, and automobiles and parts.
Exports, one of Thailand’s few drivers of growth, are just starting to recover. They rose slightly in 2016 after three years of contraction and were up 2.5 percent from a year earlier in the first two months of this year.
The central bank last week raised its 2017 export forecast to 2.2 percent rise from no growth and upgraded its economic growth outlook to 3.4 percent from 3.2 percent.
Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy expanded 3.2 percent last year.
Reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat and Orathai Sriring; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Clarence Fernandez