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Japan relies on Thailand as gateway to Asean markets, says trade minister

Sep 12. 2017
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570 delegates ‘excited’ about new investment possibilities in EEC.

THAILAND IS an investment hub for Japan that serves as a gateway to other countries in Asean, according to Hiroshige Seko, Japan’s Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry.

Seko said a large number of Japanese companies were interested in expanding investment in Thailand in the fields of automobiles, robotics, and automation technologies.

Speaking to Nation Multimedia Group chairman and CEO Thepchai Yong, Seko said he had welcomed Thai Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak to Japan in June this year, and they discussed possible economic collaboration between Thailand and Japan as both countries celebrate 130 years of relations.

“The Thai government is promoting the country as ‘Thailand 4.0’ and this is where Japanese companies can help,” Seko said.

“The policy is well received by Japanese investors, and the proof is the 570 Japanese businessmen who have come to participate in the event,” he said. “This creates much excitement not only for the Thai side but also for Japan.”

The 570 executives come from leading companies that are well known in Thailand, as well as lesser-known SMEs, Seko said. “The SMEs are not only from Tokyo but from all over Japan.”

He said the large contingent of Japanese investors visiting would help create substantial cooperation, while Japanese SMEs would be able to learn about the Thai investment promotional policy in detail.

“In addition, I have met with Thailand’s Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, and he confirmed that the policy for the Eastern Economic Cooperation [EEC] will remain unchanged as it has been made a law that future governments must follow, which helps raise the confidence of the Japanese government and investors in the EEC policy,” Seko said.

Japanese automotive companies are planning to increase investment in Thailand, which is the most important supply chain source for Japan.

“There will be new investments in this industry in Thailand, and Japanese investors are also interested in investing in robotics and automation systems, due to the growing popularity of robots in all Thai business sectors. There are also many other attractive industries in Thailand that will contribute to the economy if there are additional investments,” he said.

Seko said Asean countries were an important trade partner and ally for Japan, particularly with the change in US policy seeing the superpower abandoning the Trans Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP). This significantly elevated the importance of Asean countries to Japan.

In Asean, Thailand is the most important supply chain partner for Japan, especially in the automotive industry, which cannot be relocated to another country and requires very high investment. 

“From now on, one of Japan’s most important industrial policies is to use Thailand as the hub that connects us to other Asean countries, which will also serve as our investment base,” he said, adding that Thailand would continue to be the most important market for Japan.

He added that Thailand suffered from the same weakness as Japan – a lack of capable personnel to support the country’s growth. In this respect, Japan has lent a hand through the Thai-Nichi Institute of Technology, which helps develop personnel to work in IT and automation.

“The relationship between Thailand and Japan is not just 130 years, but we have shared more than 600 years of history together,” Seko said. 

“The relationship is not only economic but also spiritual. The Japanese people know that the Thai people have a good heart and respect their King, like us. This is why so many Japanese businessmen love Thailand. During the great flood [in 2011], a large number Japanese factories were damaged, but no Japanese company decided to leave the country. They continued to stay and rebuilt their businesses in Thailand.”

He said the strong trust between both countries would serve as a foundation for Thailand to become the Asean investment hub for Japan in the long term.

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