Thailand’s relations with Belgium and Luxembourg as well as with the EU and the rest of the EU member states stand on a very solid foundation nurtured for over hundreds of years by close contacts and exchanges at the highest levels, through active and dynamic business and investment ties and through a wide array of people-people contacts.
In an exclusive interview with ThaiEurope.net team, Mr. Philip Coates, the Executive Director of the Belgian-Luxembourg/Thai Chamber of Commerce (BeLuThai) outlined the organization’s mains activities, the ease of doing business for European companies in Thailand, and the future relations between Thailand and Belgium, Luxembourg and the EU in trade, investment, education, and technology cooperation.
The role of BeLuThai in Thailand
Comprised of nearly 100 corporate and individual members, BeLuThai represents the interests of Belgium and Luxembourg business community in Thailand. Our primary role is to assist Belgian and Luxembourg companies to start business or invest in Thailand, providing platforms for business networking, events, community, business interfacing as well as fostering ties of friendship through social networks, both in Bangkok and other major cities like Phuket, Rayong and Khon Kaen. At the same time, we also help Thai companies who want to expand their business to Belgium and Luxembourg and provide practical information.
Moreover, BeLuThai also serves as a channel to voice views and interests of Belgian and Luxembourg businesses towards the government of Thailand, as well as to engage with other business organizations and stakeholders.
“We take pride in the fact that we are, together with the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand (JFCCT) whose membership represents 35 foreign chambers operating in Thailand, working with the Royal Thai government and various agencies such as the Thai Chamber of Commerce/the Board of Trade and the Board of Investment (BOI) to make Covid-19 vaccines available to expat entrepreneurs. This was underscored by the fact that, as of August 6th, we had 25 of our members vaccinated.”
The main objectives that the Chamber wants to achieve in the next 3-5 years
While getting through the pandemic is on the top of our minds, BeluThai has already started to plan for the future to accelerate a return to normal operations and has an interesting program lined up.
“We’re all looking forward to getting back to the business of in-person events which were pretty much stopped with the Covid-19 pandemic.”
In collaboration with the Franco-Thai Chamber of Commerce (FTCC), Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) and the Netherlands-Thai Chamber of Commerce (NTCC) under the lead of the JFCCT, BeLuThai is organizing a two-day virtual Business Forum in Khon Kaen on 23-24 September 2021 to promote Khon Kaen as a business destination to international companies in Thailand.
BeluThai, in partnership with several chambers like the Thai Chamber of Commerce/Board of Trade as well as Asian Chambers of Commerce and the JFCCT will organize the first “Trade Show” around December 2021 at the Montien Hotel in order to stimulate domestic demands for products and services to potential buyers who may not be aware that such products and services exist and promote export. Belgian production in Thailand such as chemicals, aquaculture, plastic packaging, and garden furniture will be attending this event. Traditionally, these companies focus on the export market but due to disruptions on the global market due to Covid-19, they want to enter the domestic market as well.
Education and youth employment support have also been high on the agenda of BeLuThai. BeLuThai has a long experience working with Thai and Belgian universities and has been involved in establishing joint programmes, including joint research in various fields, as well as promoting academic exchanges, forging ties with alumni network and offering internship opportunities for Thai students with industry leaders.
In 2018, KU Leuven and Thammasat University signed an agreement on a dual degree in Engineering Technology. In 2017, the Faculties of Architecture of Chulalongkorn University and KU Leuven organised the first CU-KUL Summer School in Nan province under the theme “Towards a city-specific tourism development plan for Nan province” As part of its commitment to develop entrepreneurship among Thai students and the local community, BeluThai plans to organize an event in 2022 with Assumption University where successful business people will be invited to share their inspiring success stories with the university students and business people.
What is your personal perception of the ease of doing business in Thailand?
From the point of view of the source countries of FDI, Mr. Coates viewed that Thailand’s standing on the ease of Doing Business has continuously been improved. Due to its strategic location in the heart of ASEAN market as well as the high skills and creativity of the workforce and a good standard of living, Thailand is seen as a logical choice for businesses looking to expand their presence in Asia.
However, in light of growing competition to attract FDI from countries like Vietnam which has competitive edge like cheap labour, English language proficiency and a large network of free trade agreements (FTAs), Thailand should continue to improve to maintain its attractiveness for FDI.
For example, Thailand should consider facilitating the entry for people seeking to enter Thailand to do business or to retire, preferably by improving visa and work permit process. Furthermore, Thailand should explore other viable ways of land reclamation near Laem Chabang seaport in Chon Buri to allow for industrial developments and also bridge the railway freight connection between the two deep sea ports between Laem Chabang-Map Ta Phut by a strong and direct dual track rails to help facilitate trade flows. Belgium is ready to provide support and advice to Thailand on civil and marine engineering.
Last but not least, Coates stressed the importance of expediting the long-delayed FTA negotiations between Thailand and the EU, and the sooner the better, to enhance economic cooperation and promote market expansion between the two sides.
Global trade and investment after Covid-19 pandemic
According to Coates, Covid-19 pandemic has brought structural changes to the global supply chains, and there will be more trade between ASEAN countries in the future with shorter, more localized supply chains.
Beyond the immediate economic and operational challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, e.g. sharp rises in transport costs and digital acceleration, in the foreseeable future the growing awareness of climate change among both businesses and consumers will force companies to manage carbon footprint in their supply chain in a way that generates fewer carbon emissions. Consequently, companies will face pressure to increase domestic production or bring manufacturing closer to home.
In addition, continued government support is also essential for the transition and to spur the economic recovery. Coates mentioned that during the coronavirus crisis, one of the biggest challenges for companies has been to get the bridge finance which can cause major problems for their operation. Furthermore, companies that laid off workers due to Covid-19 plan to rehire and it might take time to find someone with the right skills. Measures should be taken to support the use of big data tools to help select attributes and candidates for hiring.
IT-Driven Business & Medical/Wellness & Sport tourism, new opportunities for entrepreneurs
Coates also anticipates that business post-Covid-19 will be more IT driven and software development will improve. Hence, incorporating IT and Artificial intelligence (AI) in business management can help enhance the organisational capacity. This can provide great opportunities for Thailand and Belgium and Luxembourg to work together in the area of knowledge management and technology.
Furthermore, the outbreak of Covid-19 has posed critical health challenges worldwide and Medical & Wellness tourism as well as sports tourism is expected to play an important role in the revival of the Thai tourism industry. In the future, hygiene and sanitation as well as healthcare facilities will be factors that travellers consider before planning a trip.
How can Thailand improve competitiveness of its exports and investment in the European market?
Trade promotion events like business match-making and roadshows across sectors would create better understanding and awareness of new developments in Thailand, Belgium, Luxembourg and Europe that could open up business opportunities. BeLuThai is ready to help Thai businesses build support network to enhance collaboration and provide information about access to the Belgian/Luxembourg and the EU markets.
Mr. Coates also added that it would be useful for the Government to develop a comprehensive and integrated databases to provide information on policies and regulations relating to trade and investment of each of the 27 EU Member States. This platform will help Thai small businesses cut business costs and get them ready to do business in the pan-European market by providing insights into key markets and help them plan market entry strategies.
***The article was published in the Bangkokbiznews on 23 August 2021***