CANBERRA, July 5 Asia Pulse - Thailand and Australia today signed a landmark free trade agreement (FTA).
Prime ministers Thaksin Shinawatra and John Howard signed the deal, along with several other agreements covering environment, heritage, education and training.
The trade agreement is expected to deepen Australia´s economic links with South East Asia.
Mr Howard said the agreement, which Australia estimates will boost the domestic economy by $A3 billion ($US2.13 billion), was in both countries´ interests.
"It´s good for Australia and it´s good for Thailand," he told reporters.
"Thailand´s economy is strong, it´s an economy were very ready to assist in the time of the Asian economic downturn.
"We continue to enjoy growing and improving relations between our two nations."
The agreement is the first between Thailand and a developed country.
Dr Thaksin said by signing the agreement, Thailand was recognising the importance of Australia to South East Asia.
"This is because I see Australia as a strategic part of our neighbourhood. The Australian side responded with equal enthusiasm. The signal here is equally obvious," he said.
"In short our bilateral relations have never better. Our cooperation has never been more broad-based and strategic in nature."
Australia and New Zealand have been invited to a meeting of ASEAN nations in November to discuss the two countries joining a South East Asian free trade deal.
Dr Thaksin said he hoped that future summits involving ASEAN, Australia and NZ could be held into the future.
"Thailand is supporting this summit, and if you were to ask if it should be continued, if you ask Thailand we would fully support," he said.
"I hope the Thai-Australia FTA will lead the way to other FTAs with other members of ASEAN."
The Australia-Thai FTA will come into operation on January 1 next year, with around $700 million worth of Australian exports to benefit from immediate tariff cuts.
By 2010, 95 per cent of all trade between Australia and Thailand will be tariff free, although some tariffs, particularly in the agricultural area, will take another 10 years before being removed.
Prime Minister Shinawatra meets Opposition Leader Mark Latham and Governor-General Michael Jeffery later today before heading for Melbourne to address the Australia-Thailand Business Council.