What benefits would Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) membership bring to the Thai economy and US firms operating here?
The TPP is more than just a free trade agreement; it includes many important elements such as requirements over labor rights, human rights, the environment, and other social issues. Assuming the ratification process of the various countries sail through, Thailand stands to lose considerably by not signing up—a significant volume of Thailand's exports go to TPP-member countries. If Thailand were on the outside of such an agreement, it could put local manufacturers and Thai companies at a potential disadvantage in trading compared to others in TPP member states. AMCHAM certainly believes that it would be beneficial for Thailand if it joined the TPP, and it would also be beneficial for US companies investing here. US businesses have invested significant amounts of money in Thailand—we estimate about $50 billion, creating approximately a quarter of a million jobs locally.
How has AMCHAM helped facilitate American investment into Thailand?
AMCHAM provides comprehensive advice and guidance to US businesses that express an interest in Thailand. We also provide connectivity between the Thai and US governments, as well as a network of established US businesses here. In 2015, AMCHAM held over 330 events for our members. Many of these events were organized by AMCHAM's over 25 Committees, which cover various business sectors such as auto, energy, healthcare, travel and tourism, food and agriculture, and ICT, as well as special interest areas ranging from legal to marketing and community engagement. Companies can sign up to learn more and use these events as a way to build their network, seek assistance, share opinions, and try to lobby the Thai or US governments for greater support. There are many issues that are common among all foreign investors in Thailand, and AMCHAM coordinates with the JFCCT and other Chambers on these issues, too. Examples of such issues on which we collaborate include things like intellectual property rights, customs, data privacy, and visas/work permits. AMCHAM is strongly supported by its over 800 member companies and is a well-funded chamber. It uses its resources to contribute to the local community and to try to find ways to improve the Thai economy, and in so doing the investment prospects for US businesses.
How important is the corporate segment of Citibank's services in Thailand?
Our business is pretty evenly split between our institutional and consumer businesses. In terms of our institutional business, we support government and quasi government entities, top-tier local corporates, and local multinationals. Citi's competitive advantage is the fact that we can support our clients directly across 160 countries around the world. We are physically present with on-shore banking resources in 101 countries, so we can connect our clients seamlessly on a global basis in a way other banks cannot, even those deemed to be “global." It would be impossible in today's regulatory environment to build the type of network that Citi has. Naturally, that leads us to the types of clients that will have operations in multiple countries. We are unlikely to be the best bank for you if you only operate in one country. For instance, we are the global cash management bank for Thai Airways; we support it across over 40 countries in which it has a presence. We support a number of top local Thai companies with their business around the world with advisory services, funding and liquidity, foreign exchange, hedging, and other services. We do the same for global multinationals that are based here in Thailand. But our institutional business has synergies with our consumer business, too. The key decision makers at our corporate clients also tend to be globally minded, high net-worth individuals who benefit from our wealth management and premium card services, as well as our ability to connect retail clients through our online and mobile technology to Citi accounts around the world. And if you're with one of our multinational clients moving to Thailand, we can set you up seamlessly with consumer banking services here and avoid the hassle of sorting out personal financial affairs when moving to a new country.
What products and services will you be targeting with the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2016?
We have been operating in ASEAN since 1902. Globally, Citi has been around for 204 years and we are probably one of the most pan-ASEAN banks here. The AEC coming into effect will not change much for Citi because we are already well established here. Hopefully we will see more clients within ASEAN countries sign up to expand their business across borders, which Citi is naturally well suited to help them with. We have a small commercial banking business as well. We got into commercial banking because we wanted to support companies that are an important part of the supply chain for our big, corporate clients. We are also looking to support companies with potential to become the next global champions.
What are your expectations for 2016?
We are going to continue expanding. Citi's success is based on the success of our clients; the more success they enjoy, the more business they conduct through us. If they are manufacturing, selling, and exporting more, they generate more cash flow, trade volume, and FX and funding needs which is all incremental flow business for Citi. We also support clients strategically through our capital markets and M&A activities. The consumer side is dependent on domestic consumption and investment sentiment. If markets perform well, clients will invest more through our investment products, so our wealth management business grows. With stronger consumer confidence, domestic consumption will drive growth in credit card spending and consumer loans. The Thai economy is facing some challenges, both internally and externally. The agricultural sector is being affected by drought conditions and lower commodity prices. Also, overall Thai exports have dropped year on year, partly related to the slowdown in China. But on the flip side, the tourism sector has been performing well, and growth to 32 million visitors in 2016 is presently projected. Could Thailand itself do more? On some fronts, you could argue that it has. The Bank of Thailand has done as much as it can, but fiscal policy actions have only recently been accelerated since the appointment of DPM Somkid and his team last September. The infrastructure project plans are great, but the pace at which contracts are processed, projects are started, and the investment flows could be quicker. Thankfully, they are well-thought-out infrastructure plans and if they can get built and successfully run, that would be very positive. Some of the programs that are being put in on a local basis will also help drive growth and put money back into the local economy. All of these things are designed by the current economics team of the government to put more stimulus into the economy. GDP growth is forecast at about 2.5% to 2.7% in 2015. People say Thailand should grow at 5% a year but we are not there yet. We are being held back by household debt, consumer sentiment, and low private investment. Until these things improve, it is hard to see the Thai economy getting above 3%.