Keynote Address by Mr. Nitya Pibulsonggram, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand, at the First Honorary Consular Corps of Thailand (HCCT) Charity Gala Dinner, Bangkok, 14 November 2007.
November 16, 2007, 9:23 am
Mr. Arnold Foote, President of the World Federation of Consuls,Dr. Dr. Sribhumi Sukahanetr Dean of the Honorary Consular Corps of Thailand, Dr. Virachai Techavijit, President of the East Asia Regional Committee of the World Federation of Consuls, Mr. Sanan Ang-u-bolkul, Chairman of the Organizing Committee, Excellencies, Honorable Consuls, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for the kind introduction. On behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the World Federation of Consuls and the Honorary Consular Corps in Thailand for hosting this First HCCT International Charity Gala tonight in Bangkok, during the first World Consular Fair to be organized in Thailand. I understand that the proceeds from this Charity Gala Dinner will go to a wonderful organization, namely, UNICEF. Your presence here in Thailand, during a time of great joy in the celebrations on the Auspicious Occasion of the 80th Birthday Anniversary of His Majesty the King, is most appreciated.
May I therefore extend to all of you a very warm welcome. Member of the international Consular Corps — wherever you may be, whomever you may represent — you are an integral part of the network of ties that bind our nations in friendship, in promoting better understanding amongst peoples.
You are an important component of the business dynamism that drives commerce between countries, through your networks of ties in the business community and beyond.
But most importantly, you are the key link to people — people of countries you represent, people of countries where you work — dealing with all issues that span the world of consular affairs. It is this human dimension of your work that makes you special.
That is why the Foreign Ministry and Thailand attach great importance to our honorary consuls.
Because they help promote greater understanding of Thailand and the Thai people in all corners of the world. They help advance our shared interests, commercial or otherwise, with host countries. Indeed, many of you have helped reinforce a better understanding of Thailand’s recent political path after last year’s troubles.
And because they protect the interests of countless Thai nationals overseas as well as promote ties of affinity between local citizens of Thai descent with their motherland. The importance of Thai honorary consuls to Thailand’s diplomacy is reflected in the number of honorary consuls that we have. Right now, we are proud to have 120 honorary consuls represented in 64 countries, supplementing our over 90 embassies, consulates, permanent missions and other offices worldwide. We are also proud to be host to some 84 honorary consuls in Thailand, representing 75 countries. All of you in the Consular Corps are an important complement of global diplomacy, of peaceful intercourse among nations, of building stronger people-to-people ties that transcend culture and religion.
I therefore commend all the good work that you have done and encourage all of you to continue your efforts that help promote friendly ties between Thailand and the rest of the world.
Distinguished Guests, I have been asked by the organizers to say a few words on the future of Thailand — Thailand after the elections.
If there is one thing that I have learnt in more than five decades of civil and public service is that the future has a way of confounding predictions. So until time travel is made possible and one can actually see the future, the most one can do is to make best guesses on possible trends.
With these limitations in mind, let us see if there are some general trends on the future of Thailand that we can surmise based on what has happened over the past 12 months.
Well, first, let me repeat what my Prime Minister stated earlier today at the First East Asia Regional Conference of the World Federation of Consuls. That we will have general elections under the new constitution on 23rd December 2550 Buddhist Era.
And from these elections, we will have a new government, perhaps by February.
Holding these elections is the firm commitment of this Government. With the passing of key organic and electoral laws, political parties have been formed or are being activated. Political campaigns are, as you well know, being waged. Voters’ rights and responsibilities are being conveyed to the people.
These are all healthy developments for democracy and this Government will actively facilitate them.
Our most important priority is to return Thailand to a full-fledged parliamentary democracy — to building and nurturing a stronger and more genuine democracy with better safeguards.
For it was to this end that we drafted a new constitution, one endorsed by almost sixty percent of the voters in a historic referendum — one that will make it more difficult for anyone to monopolize power and abuse the public trust.
For it was for this purpose that we instituted new and higher standards for those holding public office, promoted good governance and transparency.
With these foundations, the next government will be operating in an environment that will make greater demands for even greater transparency, accountability, honesty.
This is good for Thailand.
This is good for all those engaged in business with Thailand. Now I cannot and should not try to answer questions as to what policies the new government will follow since this will prejudge the choices to be made by this country’s most important stakeholder, namely, its people.
However, I am fairly certain that which ever government comes from the elections next month, it will continue to face many of the same issues that we have faced.
Continuing the political reform process.
Strengthening national unity through reconciliation.
Getting our economy further back on track and moving it further forward.
Other issues may be identified. New and innovative means to deal with these issues may be devised. This is the legitimate prerogative of any incoming government which receives its mandate from the people.
So elections on the 23rd December is something to look forward to.
For it will enable this Government to depart from the scene, as we had promised, secure in the belief that a stronger foundation for democracy has been built.
And it will prove once again that however often Thailand may have veered from the path of full-fledged democracy over the past seventy-five years, we have always returned to it with, one hopes, lessons learnt and commitments renewed.
As the current Foreign Minister and as a full-fledged citizen to be, I look forward, with hope, to this new phase in Thai democracy.
Distinguished Guests, What of our economy Well, the future of our economy — an open, market economy that is integrated into the global economy — will continue to be influenced by regional and global economic conditions and trends. ? ?And here there are opposing trends.? ?On the plus side, predictions from international financial institutions are that economic growth will be strong in the Asia-Pacific region. About six to seven percent growth rate — fueled by a growing China, a rising India, and a resurgent Japan.
Indeed, according to The Economist, this year, China would contribute more to global GDP growth than the United States, for the first time.
ASEAN, with a new Charter and an economic blueprint for closer integration expected to be signed next week, with a combined GDP of over one trillion US dollars now, are taking serious steps to becoming a Community. Indeed, Thailand will have the privilege of chairing ASEAN in the middle of next year.
Now on to the minus side, there are signs of a possible slowdown in the world’s largest economy. One is witnessing a credit crunch in the US economy, a slowdown in the construction sector, sparking the lowering of interest rates by the Federal Reserve in September. You may all recall this.
There are other factors too. The weakening of the US dollar; continued fluctuations in oil prices but with an upward trend; uncertainties in the future of the Doha Development Round. All of these can help contribute to a global economic slowdown.
Which trends will prevail and to what extent will they reinforce or cancel out one another Well, this will have to be analyzed thoroughly since they will have great influence on the future performance of the Thai economy.
To Thailand’s credit, the performance of the Thai economy this year has confounded even the hard core pessimists.
This has as much to do with Thailand’s strong economic fundamentals as with faith in the overall management of the economy, despite some hiccups.
Exports continue to drive the economy forward, with figures for exports of goods rising by 26 percent to almost 40 billion US dollars in the third quarter of 2007, as compared to the same period last year. And this despite the appreciation of the Thai baht vis-à-vis the US dollar.
Thailand’s foreign currency reserves last month was 82 billion US dollars, compared to 67 billion at the beginning of the year. The World Bank, in its latest publication Doing Business 2008 East Asia, places Thailand third among fourteen in East Asia as the country with the greatest ease of doing business. ? ?Investments in the Thai stock market have risen, fuelled by a general liquidity benefiting the Asia-Pacific region. Indeed, the Thai stock market index has already increased by over 26 percent since the beginning of this year. Investment in general, however, has lagged behind, with the latest projections of only 1.5 percent growth for this year. ? ?People continue to visit Thailand — our friends from all over the world. The magazine Travel and Leisure recently ranked Bangkok as the third best city in the world for travelers, in its World Best Awards 2007.
What have been the sentiments of foreign companies, you might ask?
Well no foreign company has packed up their bags and left the country despite reports that some firms are considering downsizing their businesses due to what happens externally.
According to the Thai Board of Investment, foreign investors’ confidence improved in the second half of 2007. This is because of higher sales in the domestic and export markets. And also because of projections of higher profits in the second half of 2007, despite higher production and manpower costs.
These positive business sentiments seem to find resonance with credit rating agencies. JP Morgan, for one, upgraded Thailand’s rating earlier this year in March.
However, there is still some hesitation amongst foreign investors as they would like to wait for clarity and certainty in important legislation such as the Foreign Business Act.? ?But now how will things look next year?? ?Already, the Asian Development Bank has predicted that economic growth will increase, from a projected four percent GDP growth in 2007 to five percent in 2008.
Exports will play a smaller role in GDP growth due to the appreciation for the Thai baht and expectations of a softer global economy. Domestic demand and public investment are expected to pick up the slack.
But these projections are premised on the new government being able to adopt a credible economic programme. Furthermore, important pieces of legislation need to be finalized. Key among them, as identified by the World Bank, include those in the energy and financial sector.
So credibility and certainty in the policies of the next government are key.
Key also is maintaining Thailand’s long-run competitiveness while ensuring sustainability of growth.
In this connection, some of the issues that will continue to challenge the Thai economy after the elections include the following.
A strong Thai baht and an increasingly less competitive labour force in terms of wages vis-à-vis other countries in the region can have a dampening effect on exports. Enhancing the skill of Thailand’s labour force is one way of increasing Thailand’s competitive edge. This is one of the recommendations made by the Thai Board of Investment.
Due in part to the general congestion of roads — perhaps you have noticed — railways and port facilities, transportation can be relatively less cost effective than some countries in the region. Improving the infrastructure of the Thai economy — from transportation to logistics — will thus be an important challenge. Indeed, projections of a higher GDP in 2008 in Thailand are premised on rising public investment in infrastructure projects.
The current estimate of Thai energy demands is that they are expected to double every ten years assuming five percent GDP growth annually, according to the World Bank. The growing energy needs of the Thai economy will have to be addressed but in a manner that helps protect the environment. ? ?Continuing to meet an increasing share of energy needs through renewable energy would be an important step forward in this regard.
Distinguished Guests, I have given some food for thought on the future of this country, having taken part in a government that is trying to lay a strong and secure foundation for it.
Change will occur. That is in the nature of things. But if change leads to renewal and progress, then let it proceed.
After all, is not democracy about allowing for people to opt for change?
I wish all of you a successful World Consular Fair.
Thank you for your attention.