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Phairush BurapachaisriThailand sees chances to intensify its business relations to the Middle East as a member of the Asean Economic Community. Mutual investment opportunities will be abound, for GCC investors in Thailand mainly in the food, health care, property and tourism sector.

Interviewee: Phairush Burapachaisri, Vice Chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce and the Board of Trade of Thailand.

The commercial relationship to the Middle East will get a boost when South East Asian countries tie together in the Asean Economic Community (AEC), with more than half of the world’s Muslim population represented by the bloc, says Phairush Burapachaisri, Vice Chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce and the Board of Trade of Thailand. With countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, the AEC is expected to establish itself as a major trading partner for the Middle East in various sectors.
And for the Asean nations, the Middle East could also emerge as a gateway for Africa, he added.
Thailand in particular provides a range of investment opportunities for the Middle East.
“What we have to offer for investors are the food sector, the gems and jewelry industry, health care, property, and tourism,” Burapachaisri said.
This has already been acknowledged by Middle East investors. For example, Dubai World is invested in Bangkok properties and in infrastructure. The UAE has repeatedly expressed its interest to invest into the Thai food sector. Due to the fact the Thailand’s former prime minister and businessman Thaksin Shinawatra now resides in Dubai/UAE, the economic relationships between the two countries have intensified, Burapachaisri said.
Qatari companies have a strong interest to invest in Thailand’s natural gas industry, and Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Holding is invested in two Raffles Hotels in Thailand, he added.
Reciprocally, Bahrain has signed a memorandum of understanding with Thailand to establish a large distribution center in Bahrain for Thai export goods, Burapachaisri said. Both countries have long and stable partnership due to the close relations of both royal families.
“Our closest friend in the Middle East is Bahrain,” Burapachaisri said.
Other sectors where Thai companies are invested in the UAE are hospitality (there are two Dusit Thani hotels in the UAE ), healthcare (Bumrungrad Hospital), and restaurants and groceries. Furthermore, Thailand has trade agreements with almost every country in the region, including Iran and Iraq, and many North African countries.
Special investment opportunities for Middle East investors in Thailand include the halal food business, a sector that has seen a constant growth over the last years. Thailand could function as a hub for halal food export for Muslim in the Asean region as well as to China, a country with a sizeable Muslim minority.
Islamic finance is another growth sector, Burapachaisri said. There is already one Islamic bank in Thailand, and others will follow, Burapachaisri reckons.
To develop such sectors, he suggested sending Islamic students in Thailand to the Middle East to learn more skills and gain experience. After they are back, their knowledge and expertise could benefit the Islamic business sector in Thailand.
Saudi Arabia has traditionally been a region for manpower export from Thailand, but could emerge as a gateway to Africa especially in the food sector.
“The Saudis have bought a lot of land in Sudan for their own food security,” Burapachaisri said. “They have the funds, but they don’t have the expertise. I’ve suggested that Thai agricultural experts come to Sudan and grow rice for the Saudis, this would be a great project.”
However, the project still awaits realisation as the Thai government has concerns about the export of Thai rice seeds, and farmers are afraid that such projects would create competition for Thailand itself.
“We will have to change the mindset of our people. We cannot persist on a monopoly,” Burapachaisri replies to such concerns.
In the tourism industry, Thailand has the advantage of being a gateway to Indochina, and there is no discrimination of any religion whatsoever as clarified by the Thai King himself.
“We are a tolerant society,” Burapachaisri said.
For example, after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001, Muslims have more and more refrained from travelling to the US and even to Europe, with Thailand benefitting from a rising influx of tourist in the leisure and health sector.  The government is now also pushing long-stay programs for pensioners and retirees to spend their time in Thailand, where they can benefit from excellent health care opportunities and the country’s renowned hospitality.
”It is even possible that retired foreigners establish their own communities,” Burapachaisri said. The rising frequency of air traffic between the Middle East, especially from Dubai, will boost tourism additionally, he added.
Apart from inviting investors into the country, Thailand has to do its own homework, the Vice Chairman said. The GDP is currently dependent by up to 70 per cent on exports, which is a disproportionally high exposure.
“We have to turn around, we have to restructure the whole country,” Burapachaisri said. “There was a wrong planning for industrial estates and the usage of land. That much export is not sustainable, and we must curb the domestic demand.”
Another issue is energy consumption. “We pay a high bill for our energy usage, and we must launch more investment into other power resources and alternative energy,” he said. However, this also causes problems. Producing more biomass from crop or rice would, on the other hand, reduce the amount of agricultural goods that can be used for food or animal feeding. And another energy source, nuclear power, is currently opposed by the government after the Fukushima disaster in Japan, but the private sector argues that Thailand has no choice than to build a nuclear power plant. A possible location would be on one remote island in the Gulf of Thailand, he said. Thus, investors into alternative power projects in Thailand are highly sought-after, he added.
Last but not least, Thailand has to correct and protect its image for investors, Burapachaisri said.
“You know, the 1997 Asian crisis started in Thailand and irritated investors. The Red Shirt protest last year weren’t something that encouraged them. We had the tsunami and now we have the floods. But it is for sure that we welcome tourist and investors anytime.”

Inside Investor Thailand Country Director – Camille Rovillain
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Reading Time: 4 minutes

Thailand sees chances to intensify its business relations to the Middle East as a member of the Asean Economic Community. Mutual investment opportunities will be abound, for GCC investors in Thailand mainly in the food, health care, property and tourism sector.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Phairush BurapachaisriThailand sees chances to intensify its business relations to the Middle East as a member of the Asean Economic Community. Mutual investment opportunities will be abound, for GCC investors in Thailand mainly in the food, health care, property and tourism sector.

Interviewee: Phairush Burapachaisri, Vice Chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce and the Board of Trade of Thailand.

The commercial relationship to the Middle East will get a boost when South East Asian countries tie together in the Asean Economic Community (AEC), with more than half of the world’s Muslim population represented by the bloc, says Phairush Burapachaisri, Vice Chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce and the Board of Trade of Thailand. With countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, the AEC is expected to establish itself as a major trading partner for the Middle East in various sectors.
And for the Asean nations, the Middle East could also emerge as a gateway for Africa, he added.
Thailand in particular provides a range of investment opportunities for the Middle East.
“What we have to offer for investors are the food sector, the gems and jewelry industry, health care, property, and tourism,” Burapachaisri said.
This has already been acknowledged by Middle East investors. For example, Dubai World is invested in Bangkok properties and in infrastructure. The UAE has repeatedly expressed its interest to invest into the Thai food sector. Due to the fact the Thailand’s former prime minister and businessman Thaksin Shinawatra now resides in Dubai/UAE, the economic relationships between the two countries have intensified, Burapachaisri said.
Qatari companies have a strong interest to invest in Thailand’s natural gas industry, and Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Holding is invested in two Raffles Hotels in Thailand, he added.
Reciprocally, Bahrain has signed a memorandum of understanding with Thailand to establish a large distribution center in Bahrain for Thai export goods, Burapachaisri said. Both countries have long and stable partnership due to the close relations of both royal families.
“Our closest friend in the Middle East is Bahrain,” Burapachaisri said.
Other sectors where Thai companies are invested in the UAE are hospitality (there are two Dusit Thani hotels in the UAE ), healthcare (Bumrungrad Hospital), and restaurants and groceries. Furthermore, Thailand has trade agreements with almost every country in the region, including Iran and Iraq, and many North African countries.
Special investment opportunities for Middle East investors in Thailand include the halal food business, a sector that has seen a constant growth over the last years. Thailand could function as a hub for halal food export for Muslim in the Asean region as well as to China, a country with a sizeable Muslim minority.
Islamic finance is another growth sector, Burapachaisri said. There is already one Islamic bank in Thailand, and others will follow, Burapachaisri reckons.
To develop such sectors, he suggested sending Islamic students in Thailand to the Middle East to learn more skills and gain experience. After they are back, their knowledge and expertise could benefit the Islamic business sector in Thailand.
Saudi Arabia has traditionally been a region for manpower export from Thailand, but could emerge as a gateway to Africa especially in the food sector.
“The Saudis have bought a lot of land in Sudan for their own food security,” Burapachaisri said. “They have the funds, but they don’t have the expertise. I’ve suggested that Thai agricultural experts come to Sudan and grow rice for the Saudis, this would be a great project.”
However, the project still awaits realisation as the Thai government has concerns about the export of Thai rice seeds, and farmers are afraid that such projects would create competition for Thailand itself.
“We will have to change the mindset of our people. We cannot persist on a monopoly,” Burapachaisri replies to such concerns.
In the tourism industry, Thailand has the advantage of being a gateway to Indochina, and there is no discrimination of any religion whatsoever as clarified by the Thai King himself.
“We are a tolerant society,” Burapachaisri said.
For example, after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001, Muslims have more and more refrained from travelling to the US and even to Europe, with Thailand benefitting from a rising influx of tourist in the leisure and health sector.  The government is now also pushing long-stay programs for pensioners and retirees to spend their time in Thailand, where they can benefit from excellent health care opportunities and the country’s renowned hospitality.
”It is even possible that retired foreigners establish their own communities,” Burapachaisri said. The rising frequency of air traffic between the Middle East, especially from Dubai, will boost tourism additionally, he added.
Apart from inviting investors into the country, Thailand has to do its own homework, the Vice Chairman said. The GDP is currently dependent by up to 70 per cent on exports, which is a disproportionally high exposure.
“We have to turn around, we have to restructure the whole country,” Burapachaisri said. “There was a wrong planning for industrial estates and the usage of land. That much export is not sustainable, and we must curb the domestic demand.”
Another issue is energy consumption. “We pay a high bill for our energy usage, and we must launch more investment into other power resources and alternative energy,” he said. However, this also causes problems. Producing more biomass from crop or rice would, on the other hand, reduce the amount of agricultural goods that can be used for food or animal feeding. And another energy source, nuclear power, is currently opposed by the government after the Fukushima disaster in Japan, but the private sector argues that Thailand has no choice than to build a nuclear power plant. A possible location would be on one remote island in the Gulf of Thailand, he said. Thus, investors into alternative power projects in Thailand are highly sought-after, he added.
Last but not least, Thailand has to correct and protect its image for investors, Burapachaisri said.
“You know, the 1997 Asian crisis started in Thailand and irritated investors. The Red Shirt protest last year weren’t something that encouraged them. We had the tsunami and now we have the floods. But it is for sure that we welcome tourist and investors anytime.”

Inside Investor Thailand Country Director – Camille Rovillain
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