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Spotlight from the Field: The TCS in Bangkok

With a population of nearly 70 million and the 25th‑largest economy in the world, Thailand is one of the top markets in an increasingly important region for Canadian companies. Luckily for them, the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) is ready to provide expert advice and on‑the‑ground support through its office in the Thai capital.

The TCS team in Bangkok is made up of 10 creative and business‑savvy Trade Commissioners who not only cover priority sectors such as infrastructure, cleantech and information and communication technology, but also education, aerospace, defence and security, oil and gas, and agriculture. CanadExport recently spoke with members of the team, led by Senior Trade Commissioner Sanjeev Chowdhury, about how the how TCS can help Canadian companies access opportunities in Thailand and expand into the Thai market.

When asked about why Thailand is an important market for Canadian businesses, Chowdhury emphasizes its strategic location. He says the country is “located in the middle of Southeast Asia and acts as a hub for the region with transport and distribution links to neighbouring countries,” adding that “Thailand is also one of Southeast Asia’s most advanced and wealthiest economies and is the second largest economy in the region.” And, two‑way trade hovering around the $4.5 billion mark, the trade team is taking on with gusto Canadian Ambassador Sarah Taylor’s challenge to see that rise to $5 billion during her term.

Sanjeev Chowdhury
Sanjeev Chowdhury, Senior Trade Commissioner, TCS in Bangkok

Canadian exports to Thailand

Despite the COVID‑19 pandemic, Canadian exports to Thailand have remained strong. Canadian merchandise exports were valued at $806.4 million in 2020, consisting primarily of wood pulp, cereal grains, fertilizers, electronics, and machinery. Bilateral trade in services, meanwhile, amounted to $373 million in 2020, with Canadian exports accounting for $194 million of that total.

Opportunities for Canadian companies

According to the TCS team in Bangkok, manufacturing remains the cornerstone of the Thai economy, particularly in the areas of automobiles, electronics and agriculture. Moving forward, the major driver of growth will be Thailand 4.0, an economic development strategy that focuses on innovation and competitiveness.

As part of this strategy, billions of dollars are being invested in a variety infrastructure projects, including rail and airport upgrades, the construction of a new high‑speed rail line and new highways, and the development of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC). The EEC involves enhancing and building new manufacturing and industrial clusters along the Thailand’s eastern seaboard. There are many opportunities for Canadian exporters and investors with infrastructure expertise to meet the demands created by this initiative.

When exploring these opportunities, the TCS team in Bangkok encourages Canadian companies to take advantage of government services and resources available to support their international business development activities in Thailand. The TCS in Bangkok works closely with other Government of Canada organizations, such as Export Development Canada and the Canadian Commercial Corporation, to provide Canadian businesses with seamless support to pursue infrastructure opportunities.

On‑the‑ground support and expertise

When asked what advice he’d give to Canadian companies who may be considering doing business in Thailand, Chowdhury emphasizes the importance of using “local expertise on the ground,” including “local reputable law firms.”

He also urges businesses to have a long‑term strategy for the Thai market, and to allocate sufficient time and resources before entering the market. According to Chowdhury, “Thailand has a proud culture, and understanding how business is done here is extremely important to obtain lasting success.” He notes that “frequent follow ups and face‑to‑face interactions are essential to maximize your chances of success here. Those are all areas where our TCS team in Bangkok can make a difference.”

TCS‑supported successes in Thailand

The team at the Canadian Trade Commissioner (TCS) office in Bangkok has played a role in or facilitated several Canadian export successes in recent times. A few examples:

The team is also working with trade policy experts on a number of initiatives to reduce barriers to trade between Canada and Thailand.

Impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic

The team has had to make changes to the way it supports Canadian companies since the start of the COVID‑19 pandemic. Most of its operations, for example, have gone digital. And in addition to its day‑to‑day trade‑promotion activities, the team has also helped essential Canadian business personnel who have needed to enter Thailand during the pandemic to keep their operation running smoothly.

Through it all, trade between Canada and Thailand has proven to be remarkably resilient, which, according to the TCS team in Bangkok, says a lot about the ability of Canadian companies to adapt to new challenges.

Potential Canada‑ASEAN Free Trade Agreement

As a new year begins, Chowdhury is optimistic about the future of Canada‑Thailand trade relations, especially with the announcement in November 2021 that Canada and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have agreed to proceed with negotiations toward a free trade agreement (FTA).

“We were very pleased when Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut [Chan‑o‑cha] recently announced his support publically at the ASEAN summit to launch Canada‑ASEAN FTA negotiations,” Chowdhury says. He adds that he’s “excited [about] what this Agreement can offer in the future to our exporters back home. A Canada‑ASEAN FTA would bring Thailand and the whole region closer to Canada and level the playing field for Canadian companies competing for market shares in the Thai market, where competition is fierce.”

Conclusion

Thailand continues to be an important market for Canadian companies in a number of sectors. Chowdhury points to the country’s “robust consumer class and its central location, which makes it an attractive base for companies looking to get access to neighbouring countries,” as well as Thailand’s “relatively strong infrastructure [and] business‑friendly and pro‑investment policies.”

The TCS office in Bangkok is ready to help you navigate the ins‑and‑outs of the market, explore opportunities and guide you to business success “We’re here to help. Don’t be shy to reach out to us,” Chowdhury says.

Are you interested in exporting to or doing business in Thailand? Contact the TCS team in Bangkok for more information.

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