The Business Year

M.R. Pridiyathorn Devakula

UAE, ABU DHABI - Diplomacy

Good Impressions

Deputy Prime Minister, Kingdom of Thailand

Bio

M.R. Pridiyathorn Devakula is a renowned Thai economist and Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand. Previously, he served as Governor of the Bank of Thailand and as Minister of Finance. From 1971 to 1990, he worked for the Thai Farmers Bank (presently Kasikornbank), where he rose through the ranks to become Director and Senior Executive Vice President. Later, he moved into government offices, first serving as official spokesman for the Prime Minister and then Deputy Minister of Commerce in three consecutive cabinets. During his political career, he helped the government to found Export-Import Bank of Thailand and was appointed the first President. Afterward, in 2001, he became the Governor of the Bank of Thailand, a position he held until 2006 when he was invited to be Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance.

TBY talks to M.R. Pridiyathorn Devakula, Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand, on relations between Thailand and the UAE and bilateral trade.

What are the key areas of cooperation currently in place between Thailand and the UAE?

The areas of cooperation are diverse, but our economic ties currently stand out, if you consider that the UAE and Thailand are each other’s biggest trading partners in the Middle East and Southeast Asia respectively. The UAE is also vital for our energy security as it has been our number-one import source of crude oil for many years now. Beyond the macro-level, people-to-people relations between both countries are very close. Many Emiratis have visited Thailand as tourists, many among them medical tourists, and they have a good impression of my country and its people. On the other hand, there are currently about 10,000 Thai nationals residing in the UAE and working in various sectors, ranging from heavy industry and infrastructure to the hospitality sector and the airline business. Thai people are contributing to the growth and prosperity of the UAE as well.

The UAE is Thailand’s primary trade partner in the region. How has the volume of bilateral trade developed over the years and in what ways is the UAE a hub for Thai trade to the Middle East?

The UAE is not only our primary trade partner in the Middle East, but was our fifth largest trading partner worldwide in 2013, with a trade volume exceeding $20 billion for the first time in history. Both our exports to and imports from the UAE have risen continuously over many years, although for 2014 Thai imports from the UAE may decline for the first time. However, there is no cause for concern as this drop is mainly due to the falling average price of crude oil, which dominates our imports from the UAE. The UAE is a perfect hub for Thai trade to the Middle East because of its highly developed infrastructure, both physical and digital, its excellent connectivity to other parts of the world, and also its enabling trade and economic policy. This is best illustrated by the fact that the Thai Trade Centre, which is the government export promotion agency in the Middle East, is based in Dubai.

What opportunities exist for the UAE’s private-sector investment in Thailand?

Foreign investment opportunities exist across all sectors in Thailand. We have an investment-friendly economic policy, a highly skilled workforce, reasonably well-developed infrastructure, and a favorable geographical location. These factors will be boosted even further by the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015 when the 10 South-East Asian nations become a single market and production base with free flow of goods, labor, and capital—and Thailand is right in the heart of it. In the coming years, there will be numerous investment opportunities in the logistics industry and related sectors, especially in the transportation infrastructure area, following the recent approval of the infrastructure development plan for 2015-22, which targets the improvement and expansion of the provincial rail network, highways, a sea port, and public transport in Bangkok. For the very short term, UAE oil firms might be interested in the coming petroleum concession bidding round, which is the first petroleum concession in Thailand since 2007. The Thai Board of Investment (BOI) also just approved the Seven-Year Investment Strategy for 2015-21, with a view to promote investments that create value for Thailand and those that have positive impact on the society and environment. Special incentives will be given to investments in, for example, high-tech and creative industries, the digital economy, projects located in 20 lower-income provinces, as well as the five special economic development zones in the border areas. In this regard, I would encourage potential investors to study this strategy in order to optimize their investment decisions.

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