GOING GLOBAL

Thailand 2017 | INDUSTRY & ENERGY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Apiradi Tantraporn, Minister of Commerce of Thailand, on the ministry's strategy to boost exports, exploring emerging markets, and the pros and cons of the TPP.

Apiradi Tantraporn
BIOGRAPHY
Apiradi Tantraporn is the Minister of Commerce of Thailand, having previously served as Deputy Minister. Before that, she was the Executive Chairperson of the International Institute for Asia Pacific Studies at Bangkok University. Other positions have included Director General of the Department of Foreign Trade and Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the WTO. She has a strong academic background, having studied business administration at Thammasat University, later obtaining a master’s in international trade from Syracuse University in the US.

Which macroeconomic factors will be crucial to realizing the ministry's goals of having exports grow by 5% in 2016?

The economic situation for 2016 is not bright. We are still in a fragile environment regarding oil prices. The Thai economy depends heavily on exports and over 60% of our exports are goods. However, when looking at exports, we not only look at goods, because our economy is broad. We also export services, which is a growing segment. We are now looking at a two-pronged approach for our exports. The growing market in the region is the reason why we aim for 5%, in particular, with ASEAN countries, because 2016 is when we launch the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which has the potential to boost the Thai economy. We are in the heart of ASEAN, especially on the mainland, which is significant. We have those two countries with populations of over 1 billion each. Although China's economy is slowing down, it still remains a growth area for us. This is because according to our strategy, not only will we look at these countries as a whole, we will also dig deep into their major cities. When talking about the AEC, Thailand is in a strategic location with unrivalled access to the booming Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam (CLMV) markets. In 2016, we will have an important road and rail link to China through Laos and Thailand. Another two important links will go from Vietnam to Myanmar and also from Thailand through Myanmar to India. These are important aspects when we analyze the future prospects for Thailand.

How can the ministry help exporters establish themselves in both well-established and emerging markets?

Emerging markets are particularly important for us. We have to separate the two types of markets and look specifically at how we bring people into new emerging markets. For example, I returned from a trip to Iran and Oman. Oman is a small country, but is a member of the emerging GCC bloc and can be a link to East African countries, while Iran has just opened up following decades-long sanctions. Iran is a large market and could also be a link to the CIS. Even large businesses in Thailand do not have the know-how to access such markets, especially Iran. On our trip, we found that both sides are just as enthusiastic about each other. Iran is seeking partnerships, and Thailand is a good fit in that sense. This is the time to bring our businesses to new emerging economies. We still have to continue with traditional markets in the US and the EU, although the EU is slowing down. There are also niche markets, where we try to adapt our business, products, and services to suit each market.

With many agreements and FTAs, does Thailand need the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)?

It does not hurt to be part of this agreement. We are examining the TPP in detail because Thailand is, of course, part of the production chain and it would help for us to remain in this chain. However, as a new member we know the 12 original members will ask Thailand what they can get from us. If the price is too high then we cannot enter; however, we hope we can receive support from our friends in the TPP and learn from them, for example, Vietnam and Malaysia, whose level of development is similar to ours. We can learn how they adapted and prepared themselves to be part of that huge agreement. It is important to be part of the TPP as a trading partner. Even though we are not part of the agreement, we are a trading nation in a trading world. We have new investment opportunities, such as in high technology and R&D, with which we attract foreign investment into Thailand. In that sense, we have been moving up the scale, even though we are not a member of the TPP.