Over the last four decades, Thailand has achieved remarkable progress in social and economic development, moving from a low-income country to an upper-income country in less than a generation, according to the ambassador of Thailand to Egypt Chainarong Keratiyut-wong, who was a guest at a roundtable held by Daily News Egypt, along with representatives from the Thai embassy in Cairo, on Wednesday. The roundtable discussed all aspects of bilateral cooperation, as well as Thailand boosting its economy experience and tourism refreshment, at the newspaper’s headquarters.
Notably the other guests that attended the meeting were minister counsellor for commercial affairs at the embassy, Thalerngsak Vongsamsorn and the embassy’s first secretary responsible for cultural cooperation, Juthakeart Montapaneewat, as well as the assistant of commercial affairs counsellor, Sherif Yahia.
During the roundtable, the embassy’s representatives revealed that the Egyptian Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Thai Ministry of Commerce have a plan to hold a joint trade committee meeting at a ministerial level to discuss various economic issues, in order to further expand trade and investment cooperation between both countries.
In the planned meeting, both countries will also adopt a five-year joint action plan generally related to economic activities, which is now drafted and considered by relevant agencies of both countries.
The plan will cover various economic sectors including trade and investment, small to medium enterprises (SMEs)s promotion, tourism etc and will be a guideline for the implementation of cooperative projects in identifying sectors of both countries.
The transcript for which is below, lightly edited for clarity:
initially, what are latest indicators of Thailand’s economic growth?
The ambassador: Over the last four decades, Thailand has achieved remarkable progress in social and economic development, moving from a low-income country to an upper-income country in less than a generation. As such, Thailand has been one of the widely cited development success stories, with sustained strong growth and impressive poverty reduction, particularly in the 1980s.
Thailand’s economy grew at an average annual rate of 7.5% in the boom years of 1960 to 1996 at 5% following the Asian financial crisis during 1999-2005, creating millions of jobs that helped pull millions of people out of poverty. Gains along multiple dimensions of welfare have been impressive as more children are now getting increased years of education, and virtually everyone is now covered by health insurance while other forms of social security have expanded.
After average growth slowed to 3.5% over 2005-2015, with a dip to 2.3 % in 2014-2016, Thailand is now on the path to recovery. Economic growth reached 3.9% in 2017, which is the best growth performance since 2012 and is expected to expand further to 4.1% in 2018.
How do you assess Egypt’s economic reforms?
It seems everything is moving in the right direction at the macroeconomic level, including increasing reserves, tourist arrivals, remittances, Suez revenues, export, decreasing trade deficits, budget deficits, inflation. Step-by-step the reduction of public utility subsidies (electricity, water, gas, fuel, transportation) with a social safety net scheme like Takaful and Karama help to reduce the impact on low income groups and are unavoidable to get out of this crisis.
The country needs not waste anything. More costly public utilities will make people become more economical and lead to efficient use of these subsidized products.
No pain, no gain, but the pain should be at levels people can endure. After more than three decades of subsidies, it is going to be difficult to adjust to new realities of living without it.
Egyptians need to be patient before they can feel the positive effects of these drastic, but unavoidable economic measures. However, the plight of people is also understandable. So the government needs to walk cautious steps in its economic policy.
What about latest figures of bilateral trade exchange?
Minister counsellor for commercial affairs: Egypt ranks number one as Thailand’s trading partner in North African countries with trade proportion in 2017 accounting for 40% of total trade between Thailand and North African countries, followed by Algeria (23%), Libya (13%), Morocco (8%), Tunisia (6%), and Sudan (4%), respectively.
Total trade between Egypt-Thailand from January to June 2018 is $457m, which is considered a 30.2% mincrease from the same period of last year
Total trade between Egypt-Thailand in 2017 was $765.20m, decreasing with 9.2% from the year 2016, due to the flotation of the Egyptian pound in November 2016.
Major export products of Thailand to Egypt are automotive and parts, canned tuna, rubber products, machinery and parts, electrical appliances, chemical products etc, while major import products of Thailand from Egypt are iron and steel, fertiliser, fabrics, chemical, garments, cement, fruits and vegetable etc.
We look forward to promoting trade between Thailand and Egypt by eliminating trade obstacles in order to create a sound business environment for the private sector, whereby they conduct their business smoothly and efficiently, in which at last, it will benefit the country.
What activities Thailand carries to support, promote trade?
The ambassador: Each year we organise an International Trade Fair in Thailand and we invite buyers from all over the world to join, such as Bangkok Gems and a Jewellery Fair, both in February and September, we also have THAIFEX-World of Food Asia in May, which is the biggest food fair in Southeast Asia.
We organise Thailand Auto Parts & Accessories (TAPA) in April. we also have Thailand International Logistics Fair in August. Style-Asia’s Most Stylish Fair includes fashion products, gifts and houseware, and furniture in October. We organise incoming missions to visit Thailand. We organise outgoing missions from Thailand to visit several countries and conduct market surveys and check market opportunities.
We Provide a fund for SMEs to participate in various international trade fairs to promote their products and services.
The ambassador: We have five strategies to promote Thailand’s International Trade, which are focused on a demand-driven marketing approach by response to the market needs, promoting outward investment in key competitive sectors, such as the hospitality industry (restaurants, hotels, spas), as well as manufacturing industries: agro-based industries, automotive, and spare parts.
Our strategies focus on promoting trade in services including retail, wholesale, construction, tourism, logistics and transport etc, developing value creation and innovation-driven enterprises, cluster promotion, further developing the five original industries: automotive, electronic, agriculture sector, food processing, and tourism, creating five new future industries: digital, robotic and automation, biofuels and biochemical, aviation and logistics, and the medical hub.
Do you have details about official bilateral visits in 2018?
Minister counsellor for commercial affairs: The Egyptian Ministry of Trade and Industry and Thai Ministry of Commerce have a plan to hold the joint trade committee meeting at a ministerial level to discuss various economic issues, in order to further expand trade and investment cooperation between both countries.
The ambassador: In this meeting, both countries will also adopt a five-year joint action plan in economic activities, which is now drafted and considered by relevant agencies from both countries. This plan will cover various economic sectors including trade and investment, SME promotion, tourism etc and will be a guideline for the implementation of cooperative projects in identifying sectors from both countries.
Now both sides are discussing to schedule an appropriate meeting time to be held in Egypt either by the end of this year or the beginning of next year.
A group of Egyptian General Authority for Investment and Free zones (GAFI), led by Essam Behairy, undersecretary of the ministry of investment and international cooperation visited Thailand on 16 till the18 July. The embassy has coordinated with Thai customs, and the industrial estate authority to arrange the visit.
What about cooperation in culture, tourism?
The ambassador: In 2017, Thailand welcomed just over 35 million visitors. Over 9.8 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand last year, about 25,000 Egyptians also visited Thailand last year. In the past five years the numbers of Egyptian tourists to Thailand stayed at about 25,000 to 28,000 annually. About half of them visit Thailand for their honeymoon.
Last year, the Thai government launched a new tourism campaign called ‘open to the new shades’ to market new places and experiences, in order to target repeat visitors.
In terms of tourism strategies, Thailand now focuses on three things, which are family, wellness, and females.
Throughout the year, the Thai embassy in Cairo organises different activities to promote Thailand in Egypt. In 2018, we have organised the following events, such as Muay Thai competitions over three events. On the 16 February we organised a Muay Thai competition in Ismailia, while on the 20 April we organised the same competition in Alexandria and on the 29 and 30 June we organised a Muay Thai Egypt Cup 2018 at the Cairo Stadium.
In terms of culture, the VieTrio musical band performed at El-Gomhouria Theatre, Cairo on the 12 March at the Alexandria Opera house and on 13 March following another concert in Khartoum on 7 March.
Meanwhile, the Thai cultural troupe participated in the International Drum Festival organised by the Egyptian ministry of culture on 19 to 26 April.
Moreover, there were four Thai cuisine demonstration series organised this year on 26 June, 17 July, 25 July, and 7 August, one of them was held at Dusit hotel in New Cairo.
The Thai embassy also participates in various cultural events in Cairo including at El-Sawy Cultural Wheel, the Pharaonic village, universities such as the 6 October University, and the British University in Egypt.
First secretary responsible for cultural cooperation: for further events, we invite representatives of leading sports clubs in Egypt for a Muay Thai trip in Thailand in September, where they will have the chance to meet sport authorities in Thailand and visit different Muay Thai establishments including camps and stadiums. The purpose of the visit is to show them the popularity of Muay Thai and to encourage them to introduce the sport, which will soon be in the Olympics at their own clubs in the future.
The embassy is also in the process of producing a Thai photobook to introduce the Egyptian audience to the different sides of Thai culture through the photographs by
DNE photographer Asmaa Gamal—who is one of the newspaper’s prominent photographers. We plan to launch the book by late September.
Additionally, all Thai people play a role in creating a memorable tourism experience either as welcoming hosts or as a providers of tourism products and services. In Thailand, the tourism industry is of great economic significance when compared to most countries in the region. It accounts for 16.6% of Thailand’s income and is among the top tourism destinations in the world with its unique cultural and natural disposition, its hospitality, and its location at the centre of Southeast Asia, as per the World Economic Forum’s ranking, according to the assessment of Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI), Thailand was ranked 35 from 141 countries assessed.
Thailand’s tourism industry contributes a big chunk to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, about 10 years ago, the industry contributed about 6.5% of Thailand’s GDP. Lately we can estimate that it contributes between 9 and 10%.
When seeing the number of tourists, hotel occupations, we can even expect more sustainable portion of the GDP. In 2012, tourism revenues amounted to staggering about $34bn while in 2017, provisional data indicate receipts about $53.7bn which is considered an increase of 85.4% in Thai baht compared to five years ago.
We read about advantages of medical tourism in Thailand, could you please tell us more?
The ambassador: Medical tourism in Thailand is not cheap, but still by far less expensive even including traveling and vacation expenses and treatment in western countries. We provide prompt and pleasant service, highly advanced medical technology, highly skilled doctors and nurses, visa facilitation plus extended periods of stay if required. We also have high class hospitals as 5-star hotels including foreign language translators, prayer rooms, halal foods, and rooms designed for Muslim families.
What is your opinion regarding Egyptian tourism?
The ambassador: Egypt has much more tourism resources than Thailand especially those related to ancient civilization, which people around the world flock to see. People also visit Egypt because it possesses places of natural beauty, such as the Red Sea and Western desert. Unfortunately, security and the political situation in the country, during the past seven years were not been conducive to attract foreign tourists and thus rendered the resources underutilized.
The Egyptian government’s recent efforts during the past few years to revive the sector with pro-active marketing strategies, visa facilitation etc have proved effective and thus foreign tourist arrivals have increased significantly recently. In order for Egyptian tourism to be back on track again, the Egyptian government must continue to maintain a secure and safe environment in the country, simplify visa, and or in the case of an immigration processes to make it fast and more accommodating, and prevent any undesirable exploitation of tourists in all forms.
What main lesson learnt from Thai cave incident?
The ambassador: The first lesson learnt from the Thai cave incident is that people around the world are naturally kind. We can work for good together regardless of race, belief, and nationality. (Those involved in the rescue operation comprise of various nationals and religions: Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians). There are still some who are willing to sacrifice themselves for others like a Thai navy seal who died during the rescue operation. Hence, do not lose hope of seeing one of them. If we can be united to help our society during normal times rather than critical periods, our world would be a much better place to live in.