Thailand can leverage its geographic advantage in the Mekong subregion to become a regional hub for Australia, a seminar has heard.
Sarasin Viraphol, executive vice president of Charoen Pokphand Group, said Thailand’s air, land and water-borne transport and its communication networks, supported by advanced logistics systems, a trained and proficient workforce and a transparent legal and tax regime must provide the backbone of such undertakings.
Thailand’s river transport, coastal shipping to connect Southeast Asia with neighbouring South Asian countries and China, not to mention subregional overland and aviation links, are ripe for development, |he told the Australia-Thailand Business Conference held by the Australian-Thai Chamber of Com-merce on Monday.
Thai leaders in the past have displayed a true vision to form Asean. The Southeast Asian nations are where they are today, free of major political strife and poised to benefit from future growth and stability, because of Asean. Because of Asean, their voices are heard and respected on the international stage.
The development towards the creation of the Asean Community, particularly with the much-heralded Asean Economic Community (AEC), signifies the grouping’s collective economic and political strengths. In turn, it adds to the stability, credibility and developmental potential of individual member states, he said.
“In this context, it is welcoming to see a long-time and long-term partner such as Australia reiterate its vision and commitment to Asia through the issuance of the white paper titled ‘Australia in the Asian Century, by Prime Minister Julia Gillard on October 28,” he said.
“It mirrors a similar need by Thailand’s political leadership to engage in a similar exercise in articulating the country’s future positioning with regards its international trade and investment particularly in preparing its citizenry, bureaucracy and corporates to take up the global challenge through facilitation, innovation and capacity building.”
Sarasin said it should be pointed out that the Australian-Thai partnership in trade and investment was rather visible in such areas as logistics and supply chains, aviation and tourism, banking and finance, education, environmental management, energy, automotive manufacturing, and the agricultural sector, both food crops and industry.
The introduction of the AEC will widen Asean’s trade and investment in goods and services and the movement of businesspeople and tourists, he said.
John Anderson, president of the Australian-Thai Chamber of Commerce, said the free-trade agreement launched in 2005 had created a large increase in two-way trade between Thailand and Australia, which posted at about 16 billion Australian dollars (Bt510 billion) last year. It surged significantly from only A$8 billion in 2005.
“Thailand is now Australia’s seventh-largest trading partner in terms of value of trade. Thai companies are also very large investors in Australia, including PTTEP, Mitr Phol, Banpu and Minor Group. Foreign investment from Thailand to Australia is even bigger than Australia in Thailand,” he said.
The white paper will lead to greater awareness of Australians on what is happening in Asia and their refocusing attention on trade and investment expansion in this region, Anderson said.
Sarasin said Thailand was still facing the challenge of transforming itself from its middle-income status to a higher-income economy.
For this reason, Thailand must enhance its developmental capability through trade and investment in an international environment that is more fast-changing, competitive and knowledge-based.
ISSUES TO ADDRESS
In reaching for new heights in Thailand’s economic transformation, the country must strive to address a number of developmental issues, he said.
It must transform the traditional producer-exporter model of growth to a producer-consumer-exporter model; strengthen its macroeconomic management through the open trading system and necessary infrastructure support, including an educated, innovative workforce with entrepreneurial skills and a culture of excellence; tackle the issue of national governance in the promotion of sustainable economic development, namely stemming corruption; and develop credible political leadership to steer Thailand in the global setting.
It also must deepen and widen regional integration by helping institutionalise the Asean Community through economic, political and social integration; applying concerted efforts by the working generations to learn foreign languages for global communication, particularly English and Chinese; and galvanise the private sector and kindle an entrepreneurial spirit among the younger generation, strengthen their data and intelligence, information technology, capital and finance, practical and analytical skills, and upgrade the efficiency productivity of the workforce.
As a middle-income nation in Southeast Asia, Thailand has been developed by relying on foreign trade, investment, tourism and other commercial relations with nations near and far, Sarasin said. The country has benefited from its geopolitical position in an Asian subregion straddling vital lines of communication, proximity to major centres of civilisation and powers.
Thais are accustomed to interacting with other people. Thai external policies are pragmatic and inclusive. Thailand benefits from the subregion’s natural endowment and human resources, he said.