By Petchanet Pratruangkrai
Belgian Ambassador to Thailand Marc Michielsen said the Kingdom was in the perfect position geographically to become an Asean hub in terms of business and logistics, and many businesses wanted to use the country as a springboard to penetrate the region once the Asean Economic Community kicks off in 2015.
“Thailand is a hub for accessing other neighbouring countries, such as Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, which have a very high growth potential. Bangkok is very centrally located and has a high level of development to serve Belgian investors. Closer cooperation should strengthen economic growth,” Michielsen said.
Belgian businesses are eyeing the manufacturing sector to service businesses such as the agro-industry, pharmaceuticals, energy and renewable energy, chemical, automotive parts and logistics.
However, Michielsen said he hoped Thailand would start negotiating a free-trade agreement with the European Union in a couple of months in order to boost cooperation. He added that Thailand should make a decision on the EU trade pact quickly so it does not get left behind.
He cited South Korea, which has recently implemented an FTA pact with the EU and benefited hugely from trade liberalisation. The EU is one of the key markets that Thailand should not ignore, especially since Vietnam has already started bilateral talks with the union. Once the EU-Vietnam FTA is forged, it is bound to have an effect on Thailand’s competitiveness and ability to become a centre for EU trade and investment.
In addition, the FTA should help compensate for the loss of Thai export privileges to the EU under its forthcoming GSP cuts by 2014.
The ambassador, who is also responsible for diplomatic relations in Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, added that Thailand needed to develop its education and training programme for workers in order to increase confidence and draw more investment.
He said developing education and skill-training programmes should be a priority for the Thai government because the lack of skilled labour is blocking new investment. Michielsen added that his country would be more than happy to help Thailand develop its education sector as well as set up training centres.
Michielsen said close cooperation between Brussels and Bangkok would ensure strong growth, with trade gradually rising by 7 per cent per annum now that Belgium is pulling through its 2010 downturn.
According to the International Trade Promotion Department, Thai shipments to Belgium dropped slightly by 1.82 per cent last year to US$1.74 billion (Bt52 billion), though imports from Belgium dropped significantly by 18.6 per cent year-on-year to $877.7 billion.
Meanwhile, Belgian economists have recently launched “Export Promotion: A Decision Support Model Approach”, which offers guidelines on how to make the most of trading opportunities. In the book, it is suggested that Thailand focus on the service sector because it will help service industry expansion under regional integration.