A Thai proposal to partially pay China with farm produce for infrastructure contracts, including the high speed train, does not face an easy passage, Transport Minister Chadchart Suttipunt admitted on Thursday.
China's Premier Li Keqiang, left, greets Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra at a cake-cutting ceremony to celebrate bilateral relations during the 16th Asean-China Summit at the International Convention Centre in Bandar Seri Begawan on Wednesday. The two will meet again when Mr Li begins his three-day visit to Thailand on Friday. (EPA photo)
The minister showed no confidence the Thai proposal would be accepted, saying details still needed to be thrashed out. He stressed that bidding for the high-speed train project will be open for all interested parties.
The cabinet approved a number of memorandums of understanding (MoU) with China on Tuesday, one of them involving barter trade of Thai agricultural products for Chinese investment in infrastructure projects in Thailand. The products include rice and rubber, Mr Chadchart said.
The memorandums will be signed by the relevant Thai and Chinese ministers during a visit to Thailand by Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang starting on Friday.
Mr Chadchart said an MoU is only a framework and it is non-binding. Train projects would be locked up for awarding to any particular country. However, China had a possible interest in the line from Bangkok to Nong Khai, as it would eventually link with another line from China to Vientiane in Laos.
The northeastern route will be built in two stages, starting with the sector from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima. No timetable has been set for the second stage.
After the signing of the MoU, the two countries will set up a group of officials to further discuss the details, Mr Chadchart said.
An official at the State Railway of Thailand, who asked not to be named, was pessimistic about the barter-trade proposal, citing obstacles on rules and regulations.
The SRT had hopped to buy seven diesel-powered locomotives, 112 freight carriages and spare parts from China, partly paying China with dried lamyai and rice, in a 1.24 billion baht deal in 2005.
The plan had to be scrapped because of the difficulties and the rules and regulations of the Commerce Ministry, the official said.
Thailand changed the proposal with a cabinet decision to buy them for cash this year.
"From our experience, the proposal would not be easy to implement," the official said.
The new Chinese prime minister will pay his first visit to Thailand on Friday, before leaving for Vietnam from Chiang Mai on Sunday.
His schedule includes the opening of an exhibition on high-speed trains hosted by the Chinese embassy at Queen Sirikit National Convention Center on Saturday.