On August 8, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) will celebrate 45 years. The Asean Declaration, signed in the Thai capital Bangkok in 1967, aims to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region.
A single regional common market of the 10 Asean member states will be created by the launch of the Asean Economic Community in 2015. Thailand is well-positioned to build on its economic strengths as a leading industrialised nation while developing its close ties with China.
"Thai companies are recognising that they must compete on quality rather than price," says Amparwon Pichalai, director of trade information resources and e-business at the Royal Thai Government's Department of International Trade Promotion. "There is recognition that we must compete internationally, and Thailand is taking the necessary steps to ensure we remain a competitive place to do business. We enjoy strong cultural and historical ties to China and we are committed to working closely with our Chinese counterparts. Thailand's geographical location also makes us a strategic land transport corridor from China to the rest of the Asia-Pacific region."
Thailand's major industries include electrical appliances, components, computer parts and cars. Its export-driven economy ranks as the second-largest in Southeast Asia after Indonesia. Exports include rice, textiles and footwear, fishery products, rubber, cars, computers and electrical appliances. As the economy grows, the Thai government is taking steps to ensure it is easier for companies to operate as the country continues its efforts to become more business-friendly.
"Thailand is learning from Hong Kong regarding the implementation of anticorruption measures," says Andrew Wong, president of the Thai-Hong Kong Trade Association. "Last year, the Thai government invited the commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption to deliver a talk on how to combat corruption in Bangkok. Increasingly, Thai businessmen are entering the Chinese market through Hong Kong as their partners and advisers there are able to point them in the right direction."
Bernard Chan, chairman of the Hong Kong-Thailand Business Council, is confident that the Sino-Thai relationship will remain a catalyst for growth throughout the region.
"Obviously, last year's floods affected a lot of business between Thailand and Hong Kong and the rest of Greater China. But the overall trend is very positive, with the previous five years showing bilateral trade between the two economies averaging nearly 10 per cent growth per year. Thailand is currently Hong Kong's 12th-largest export market and 10th-largest source of imports. The trade relationship dates back more than a century to when Thailand first started supplying rice to Hong Kong," he says.
"Looking to the future, the business communities in Hong Kong and Thailand are looking forward to the continued expansion of trade and investment opportunities. Thailand has already signed free-trade agreements with a number of countries throughout the region and while it may be a some time before Asean nations become fully open to trade, there are signs that tariffs between Asean and China will continue to be reduced. This region is still emerging and many countries still have very large lower-income populations. However, business between Hong Kong and Thailand represents a classic example of the opportunities for growth."