Minister of Commerce
The internet and technology has gone past connecting us and has become a positive tool for individuals, as well as countries. Mrs. Apiradi Tantraporn, Minister of Commerce, speaks about building one market between the ASEAN, rebuilding Thailand’s export sector and assisting to build and grow new enterprises.
FDI Spotlight: How would you highlight your vision of commerce for the FDI spotlight readers?
One of the first tasks of a government is to bring back stability to a country. We must try to satisfy and help all customers. Some people say the living costs are too high, however it has been shown that living costs have remained stable, it is the amount of money people have that has decreased. Farmers are the majority of the Thai population. In the past, the export business has been the most successful, however farmers feel they are less privileged. Therefore it is our responsibility to take care of them and help to improve their production.
FDI Spotlight: You are known for your work with ASEAN and the 6 countries, which brought together almost half of the world’s population in an effort to work together and build one market. What is your plan to accelerate this?
It is first step and most important to satisfy the consumers, producers and international trade. Now that Thailand is a part of the ASEAN economic community (AEC) Thailand will benefit greatly due to the fact that ASEAN has a free trade agreement together. We need to become one market and benefit from the union. The only problem is that not all 10 countries have agreements together so trading can sometimes be difficult. However, it is important to work together in order to all get the most benefit from the union.
FDI Spotlight: Thailand is geographically in the centre of the AEC. Do you think Thailand can become the gateway to the market?
Thailand is already the centre of ASEAN due to its location. There is now the rail link between China and India which makes them more easily accessible. All roads lead across Thailand and therefore we are seen as the hub of ASEAN. Thailand is at a very important crossroads and it is vital that we use every opportunity to our advantage in order to position ourselves as the gateway of ASEAN.
FDI Spotlight: Thailand’s most successful industry has been the export sector, however this year there has been a decline. Thanks to infrastructure and tourism the country was able to recover quickly from any losses. In which areas do you plan on growing Thailand’s export potential?
One reason for the decline in the export industry was the economic situation. There are still many outdated systems in Thailand and we do not have a strong brand. We therefore need to partner with countries with this as their strength; for example Japan, Spain or Italy. We need to increase and improve the production scale, the marketing and the branding. However whilst some industries involved in exportation have suffered, others have flourished.
We have become very successful in our locomotive industry, now holding the position as the biggest exporter of cars in ASEAN. We need to increase this output, and have therefore started initiatives such as the ‘people car’ and the ‘next generation car’. The services economy is also very strong and continues to grow. I believe the future of Thailand’s export is in the service industry. Thailand also has a very well renowned film, animation and digital entertainment sector.
FDI Spotlight: How do you intend to foster the growth of small to medium-enterprises (SME) and help with partnerships?
We have a strong desire to help the SMEs and start-ups. We want to encourage and support the new and fresh ideas of the younger generations. This is accomplished by bringing together the big names in industry into contact with smaller enterprises to work together. We bring international food exporters to events in Thailand in which there will be a lot of local brands and domestic food producers. This initiative was very successful in upgrading local businesses to an international level. In 2016 the internet is a very useful tool when it comes to connectivity.
Ecommerce is now all over Thailand, however the smaller enterprises are not familiar with its use and are reluctant to switch across. We try to show these businesses the benefits of using the new international platform for transactions and support them in the change. With this, they can grow confidence in the new system and can use it to their advantage. We want to be sure that the smaller businesses can follow in the direction of the bigger international ones.
FDI Spotlight: Do you consider a change of mind-set the most instrumental tool in internationalising Thai people, and do you think Thai people see the potential of their country?
Often Thai people accept when things go wrong and do not make any changes. I try to take the opportunity to make a positive out of a negative. One example of this is the use of Suratthani as a city. This city used to be a very busy area, mostly due to it being the main connection both by land and by air to Koh Samui and the surrounding islands that draw in so many tourists and domestic visitors. Now that there is an airport on Koh Samui, Suratthani receives far less visitors than before and the city is somewhat bypassed. I wanted to inject some life and interest back into the city. I did this by creating a huge event to mark the 100th anniversary of relations between the city of Surat in Gujarat India and Suratthani, Thailand. The Southern International Trade Expo was created and was a huge success. Buyers and traders from both countries attended and created many contacts and connections. The event itself was marked by the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the two countries, reviving the historical relations.