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Thailand keen to expand economic ties with Sri Lanka: Envoy

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Wednesday, 13 September 2017 00:05


  • Draft MoU on Strategic Partnership submitted to Sri Lankan Govt. with number of areas of mutual cooperation
  • FTA on the cards; goal is to triple bilateral trade to $ 1.5 b by 2020 and woo more Thai investments

 Thailand is keen to make a significant expansion in economic ties with Sri Lanka with a host of bilateral initiatives under way and several new measures bearing fruit. 

Growing commitment and support to Sri Lanka was shared by Thailand’s Ambassador Chulamanee Chartsuwan during his remarks at the 17th Annual General Meeting of the Sri Lanka – Thailand Business Council recently.

Following are excerpts of his speech:

It is a great honour to be invited to this welcoming reception organised by the Sri Lanka-Thailand Business Council, and to be among distinguished business men and women of Sri Lanka.

The Royal Thai Embassy would like to express its deep appreciation for the works done by the SLTBC and its able executive board, to promote trade and investment between the 2 countries throughout the past two decades. I look forward to furthering the existing excellent relations with the Business Council to further win-win economic relations.

 As this is my first meeting with most of you here, allow me to introduce myself. While diplomat is by default a generalist, with my second master degree in International Business, my diplomatic career has distinctively geared towards international economics. 

My posting in Sri Lanka is at very opportune time when the two close friends – Thailand and Sri Lanka – bound closely by historical and cultural and religious ties – have significantly been moving closer to the other in economic field – closer than any time in our modern relations – on the way to become strategic partnership. 

In 2016, Thailand and Sri Lanka governments set a target to triple trade value between the two countries from presently $ 500 million to $ 1,500 million by 2020. 

With this ambitious trade target set by the Governments, and with my strong economic background, it is not by chance that I have been assigned to be Ambassador to Sri Lanka today. Thailand Week with the first Thai Trade Fair was organised in less than one month after I landed here. My mission is clear from day 1. 

On investment side, there is no set target. With the Thai investment value jumping 10 times from $ 70 million in 2015 to $ 700 million in 2016, mainly through the investment by Siam City Cement in Insee company, there is no reason not to expect much more investment from Thailand. 

Just one very concrete example was another historic day in our economic relations as the Joint letter of Intent was signed between Sri Lankan BoI and Rojana Industrial Estate to establish Milleniya Export Processing Zone in Kalutara District. This EPZ-Sri Lanka’s first industrial zone in over a decade – will attract $ 500 in its initial two phrases, expecting to create 10,000 new jobs through 100 manufacturing operations, and the number of manufacturers operating there is expected to double at later stage when the EPZ is expanded from the initial 400 acres to 1000 acres. It is hoped that the approval and construction of infrastructure – normally five years – would be completed in one year and the project ready by end 2018.

With these important facts and figures, let me share with you my mission as Ambassador of Thailand to Sri Lanka.

First, I have got a clear signal to seek ways and means to upgrade our bilateral relationship to the level of strategic partnership. The political will from both sides is clear; the tricky part is to walk the talk.

I can share with you that Thailand has already submitted a draft MoU on Strategic Partnership to the Sri Lankan counterpart. We identified in the draft MoU a number of areas of mutual interest. The next step is to develop certain form of Plan of Action.

But even during the development phase of this Plan of Action, line agencies have been working closely together. One example – by early September the Ministry of Primary Industry is going to sign a cooperation MoU with the Bank for Agriculture and Cooperatives and Kasetsart University, with a view to developing the primary industries in Sri Lanka through capacity building and knowledge sharing, and to exploring the possibilities of obtaining credit lines to support the entrepreneurs engaged in exports and imports related to primary industries.

Second, I have been instructed to follow up with the Sri Lankan side on Thai-Sri Lanka FTA negotiations. I have been in close contact with the Ministry of Commerce, which is responsible for this FTA negotiation.

Third, I set as my mission to identify areas where Thai and Sri Lankan businessmen can trade and invest. The areas of agriculture and processed food, gems and jewellery, electronics, automative parts, rubber, hospitality including hotel management, alternative energy, are some of the areas floating between both sides.

At this juncture, I have just come back from Thailand few days ago, after series of meetings with a number of leading trade associations and companies. Let me take this opportunity to tell you 3 frank feedbacks from my discussion with the Thai business side.

First, Sri Lanka is a small country, with small population when compared to other South Asian countries. DI, and particularly PPP, cannot be attracted with the sheer number of population here. A number of Thai investors I talked to need careful feasibility study and cost-benefit analysis before committing on any projects. 

I pointed out to the Thai businessmen, and they agreed, that the competitive edge of Sri Lanka lies in its strategic location. Sri Lanka has rightly positioned itself as maritime hub for South Asia, and this point offers strategic interest to the Thai business sector.

That is why after two months of posting here I have chosen my first B2B project with the theme of logistics. I brought a number of Sri Lankan companies to logistic trade fair called TILOG-LOGISTIX, as well as to Laem Chabung, our biggest port. Very soon I will lead Embassy staff to visit Hambantota Port and Airport, to have a better appraisal of its potential, especially as a jewel crown in One Belt One Road project.

Second, with its small consumer base Sri Lanka has been positioning itself as gateway to South Asia through its bilateral FTA networks with South Asia. While this positioning is welcoming, investors might already compare the incentives and advantages offered here in Sri Lanka with those offered by neighboring countries with much bigger population base. Therefore, investors are looking for cost effective labor cost, ease of doing business, easier tax structure, stronger incentives – in short – more business friendliness and confidence.

But GSP+ scheme is different, as we are talking about the access to the EU market, something that most other countries in South Asia cannot offer. We – yes I mean you and me – need to sell this point more - how GSP+ can be better utilised for a win-win benefit for Sri Lanka and a third country like Thailand.

Third, one Thai company gave me a homework, and I would appreciate if anyone here could help me do this homework. The homework is – how can Thai investors work with their counterparts in Sri Lanka to access market in Great Britain, probably through Commonwealth scheme, now that Brexit is becoming a reality. Brexit is making a big transformation to trade between Asia, Thailand included, and Europe, and my homework is how Sri Lanka can play a role in this transformation.

Last but not least, I welcome your inputs, recommendations and suggestions on how the Royal Thai Embassy could help promote trade and investment.

Please be assured that the Royal Thai Embassy stands ready to give support and facilitate Sri Lankan businessmen in promoting greater economic activities between the two countries.


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