วันเสาร์ที่ 16 มีนาคม พ.ศ. 2556

First Ever Visit of an Irish Government Minister to the ASEAN Secretariat

(15/03/2013)


H.E. Brendan Howlin, Minister of Public Expenditure and Reform of the Republic of Ireland, visited the ASEAN Secretariat yesterday to be updated on the latest development and prospects of achieving the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015. The Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN for the AEC, H.E. Lim Hong Hin, received the Minister and his delegation.

Minister Howlin provided the background on Ireland holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union from January to June 2013 as part of the Trio programme of six monthly Presidency with Lithuania and Greece. The key priorities for Ireland include, amongst others, recovery and stability of the Euro Zone, economic growth, and job creation.

DSG Lim briefed the Minister on the latest development in ASEAN’s efforts in establishing AEC by 2015. He highlighted that while there has been progress over the years, there are still challenges ahead that ASEAN needs to address. Amongst others, incorporating regional commitments into national strategic plan, developing legal framework to facilitate the implementation of agreed measures, strengthening institutional capacity to enforce regulations, and expediting the integration of new ASEAN members with the more developed ASEAN-6 (Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand).
This is the first ever visit of an Irish Government Minister to the ASEAN Secretariat.

Great Britain Members of Parliament Call on the ASEAN Secretariat

(15/03/2013)


Led by H.E. Margot James, a delegation of six Members of Parliament from Great Britain visited the ASEAN Secretariat yesterday to better understand the developments in ASEAN.  The Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN for the ASEAN Economic Community, H.E. Lim Hong Hin, received and briefed the delegation.

Both sides exchanged views on the EU and ASEAN model of integration and how ASEAN could gain from the EU experience.  Although the two models have different aspirations, DSG Lim pointed out there are indeed lessons that ASEAN and EU could learn from each other. One such area would be the integration of new members into ASEAN. With regard to Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), DSG Lim explained that both initiatives are building blocks for a region-wide free trade arrangement and provide accession for interested parties to join the initiatives once the negotiation has been concluded.  However the level of ambitions may differ between the two initiatives.

DSG Lim also briefed the Delegation on the latest development in ASEAN’s efforts and challenges faced in establishing an ASEAN Economic Community by 2015. He went on to share specific efforts being pursued in promoting the ASEAN as an investment destination including the forthcoming Forum on ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement.

The Delegation had earlier visited the Indonesian Parliamentary Commission and other trade and investment related departments in Indonesia before coming to the ASEAN Secretariat.

For the 20 November 2012 Press Release:  ASEAN and FTA Partners Launch The World's Biggest Regional Free Trade Deal click here

Sino-Thai Cooperation on Education

(15/03/2013)


The Minister of Education Mr. Phongthep Thepkanjana received textbooks and learning and teaching materials from the Chinese ambassador in Thailand, Mr. Kuan Mu, on 11 March 2013 at the Education Ministry. All the textbooks and materials will be provided to schools under the Ministry's supervision.

The Education Minister thanked the Chinese ambassador for his generosity, saying that the study of Chinese was much favored by Thai students and many parents were sending their children to study in China. At the present time, China is enjoying advanced education and technology and its universities are highly recognized and competitive when compared to other international universities. Chinese volunteer teachers helping Thai students here are crucial for the success of Thai students in getting admitted to Chinese universities.


The Chinese ambassador then added that sending Chinese volunteer teachers to work in Thailand strengthened the educational relations and encouraged development of ties between Thailand and China. Many Chinese teachers will learn Thai culture and show it by behaving as politely and kindly as Thai people do. In 2014, 300 more Chinese volunteer teachers will come to teach Chinese here and will develop diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Thailand and Equatorial Guinea Move to Expand Cooperation in Wider Areas

(15/03/2013)

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea have moved to widen cooperation in various areas between the two countries.

Both leaders discussed bilateral cooperation in energy, agriculture, trade, and investment during the first visit of the President of Equatorial Guinea to Thailand between 13 and 16 March 2013.

Equatorial Guinea is one of the African countries with the highest growth rate particularly since the discovery of off-shore oil reserves. It plays an important role in strengthening relations between Africa and other regions, with an aim to be a leading country of the Sub-Saharan Africa region and a commercial hub of the Western Africa.

The Secretary-General to the Prime Minister, Mr. Suranand Vejjajiva, said that the visit of the President of Equatorial Guinea to Thailand marked the first high-level visit since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1991. Ever since the implementation of diplomatic relations 22 years ago, Thailand and Equatorial Guinea have witnessed cordial relations.

Regarding trade and investment, both countries saw an increase of bilateral trade value eightfold. Trade between them was valued at 188 million baht in 2011, and the amount rose to 1,561 million baht in 2012.

According to Prime Minister Yingluck, Equatorial Guinea is a country worth exploring by the Thai private sector. The expertise of Thai business in the processing of agricultural products, construction, and energy matched well with the fast growing industrial sector of Equatorial Guinea. At the same time, the Equatorial Guinean President had a plan to build a new capital city and would welcome foreign investments for the project.

Concerning energy security, both countries exchanged views on the energy security policy in which Equatorial Guinea has capacity and on agriculture, food, and fishery in which Thailand has capacity. They also discussed exchange of expertise and more cooperation in this matter. Equatorial Guinea expressed interest in purchasing rice from Thailand on a long-term basis, whereas Thailand was interested in stepping up cooperation in the area of energy, which is heightened on its national agenda.

On political security, the Thai government viewed the “South-South Cooperation” as an important scheme for relations reinforcement among the developing countries. Prime Minister Yingluck commended Equatorial Guinea’s active role in the Cooperation and its success in hosting the 7th Summit of African Caribbean and Pacific Heads of State and Government, and the 3rd Africa – South America Summit. Thailand wished to have such exchange with the African countries, which would further lead to discussion framework and the establishment of cooperation network between Asia and Africa. Thailand also called for support from Equatorial Guinea in its application for a non-permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.

Following the plenary discussion on 14 March 2013, Prime Minister Yingluck and the President of Equatorial Guinea witnessed the signing ceremony of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the formation of bilateral discussion between Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea.

Government to Ensure Transparency in Its Planned Two-Trillion-Baht Investment Projects

(15/03/2013)

The Government will ensure transparency in its planned investment in transportation and logistics mega-projects, worth two trillion baht, or 66 billion US dollars.

Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt said that many people visiting the Thailand 2020 exposition had expressed their opinions about the mega-projects, which would be implemented over the next seven years.

The exposition began on 9 March and will run through 16 March at the Government Complex on Chaeng Watthana Road in Bangkok. It shows Thailand’s future in 2020, with the infrastructure development mega-projects. The Government expects that it will create confidence among investors and the people.

Mr. Chadchart said that the Thailand 2020 exposition had received a positive response from members of the public and private sectors, students and the general public. He said that, apart from providing visitors with information and proper understanding about the Government’s investment in transportation and logistics networks in all regions of the country, the Thailand 2020 exposition has also offered an opportunity for the Government to listen to public opinion on the mega-projects.

He stated that, in a survey of the mega-projects, most respondents to the questionnaire expressed their concern about corruption that might take place in various steps of the project implementation. They called for a monitoring process to ensure practices of transparency in all projects.

In this regard, Mr. Chadchart said that the Government and the Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand had discussed the issue relating to various matters, such as procurement procedures, specifications, and auction processes. The issue must also cover the Government’s investment of 350 billion baht to finance flood prevention and water management projects.

He said that the Government and Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand would sign a document for cooperation in ensuring transparency and good governance on the mega-projects.

The Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand, a private sector initiative, was launched in 2011. It comprises members of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Thai Bankers Association and the Federation of Capital Market Organizations. The objective is to raise public awareness and antipathy against corruption through education, suppression, and transparency.

The Cabinet recently approved the initial plans to invest two trillion baht in transportation and logistics. Some of these projects include high-speed trains and dual train track development, a better overall road network for connecting ASEAN economic corridors, improved sea ports, and more border facilities to enhance border trade.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said that Thailand’s strong fiscal position allows the country to finance these projects through various sources, including government borrowing. The participation of the private sector will be encouraged in some projects, as well.

Report on Thailand’s Social Situation

(14/03/2013)

The Cabinet, during its meeting on 12 March 2013, acknowledged a report on Thailand’s social situation in the fourth quarter of 2012 and the overall social situation in 2012.

The report, prepared by the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board, states that employment trends in Thailand have been improving.

According to the report, employment from October to December 2012 rose by 1.7 percent, with 39.6 million people employed. Employment in the agricultural sector expanded by 3 percent, while that in the non-agricultural sector increased by 0.8 percent. The unemployment rate was at a low level of 0.48 percent, a decline from 0.63 percent, when compared to the same period in 2011. For the entire year of 2012, employment increased by 5.2 percent.

The report called for preparations of manpower, in terms of both quantity and quality, for the ASEAN Community 2015. In the short term, shortages of labor in certain fields must be eased and labor restructuring must be undertaken in the long run.

Concerning education, the report called for the upgrading of the quality of education through education reform. For example, classroom teaching hours should be reduced and emphasis should be placed on result-based education.

Regarding public health, the number of patients diagnosed with diseases under the National Communicable Disease Surveillance System increased by 57.5 percent. Prevalence of non-communicable diseases was still on the rise. The number of patients suffering from hemorrhagic fever in the fourth quarter of 2012 was higher than the number in the same period of 2011 by almost threefold. Cancer remains the biggest killer in Thai society.

Drinking and smoking behavior of parents and friends led to a greater number of new drinking and smoking youths. Expenditure for alcohol consumption was on the rise, while that for tobacco consumption was on the decline. Family relations were not as close as they used to be. Technological advances provided children with easier access to inappropriate media content. Teenage pregnancy was still on the increase.

According to the report, households were at risk of recurring debt, as household debt was much larger than savings, and it continued to grow. Outstanding debts for personal consumption rose by 21.6 percent. Car and motorcycle loans rose by 33.9 percent and personal consumption by 29.4 percent. Based on the household socio-economic survey in 2011, 9.09 million households, or 45 percent of total households in the country, had no saving ability.

All types of crime cases were on the increase, and 83.9 percent of these cases were related to drugs. In 2012, drug cases increased by 5.4 percent, while children and youths continued to be the main target of the drug trade.

Social protection became more inclusive. However, some processes were overlapping and unfair. Workers with social insurance coverage increased to 11.7 million in 2012, accounting for 29.7 percent of the labor force. More than 700,000 of these workers were in the informal sector. 

Prime Minister Says the Legislative Body to Decide on Amnesty Bills

(13/03/2013)

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said that it was the duty of the legislative branch to study details of amnesty bills and make decisions on them.

Speaking about amnesty bills, the Prime Minister pointed out that legislators should work with the Government’s whip to find the best solutions to the political conflicts.

She said the Government is responsible for looking after the people’s well-being and solving economic problems. It is the Government’s duty to bring about national unity and reconciliation for the peace and happiness of the country, so that the people would have solutions to problems.

The Prime Minister said that she did not want to see the use of violence, but wanted to see all sides exchange views and opinions in reconciliation dialogues in order that the country could move forward.

In her keynote address at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand’s 2013 Annual Correspondents' Dinner with the Prime Minister on 11 March 2013 at the InterContinental Bangkok Hotel, Prime Minister Yingluck said that her first year in office was mainly about addressing the urgent needs of the people. The challenge was to deal with floods while at the same time deliver the promises made to the Thai people during the campaign and policy announcement to Parliament in August 2011.

She realized that for all of her goals to be achieved, there needed to be political stability, as it is the foundation for sustainable economic growth. The Government has addressed the issue of national reconciliation, by engaging all parties in the process and making sure that everything proceeds in accordance to the rule of law and the parliamentary process.

However, she said, this is a process that takes time and it is an ongoing process. But she believes that it has led to a degree of political stability that has been well-received by the international community.

Addressing Thailand’s Fundamentals for Sustainable Growth and Future Generations

(12/03/2013)

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said that she aims to address Thailand’s fundamentals in order to promote sustainable growth in the long term and build a better Thailand for future generations.

The statement was part of her keynote address at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand 2013 Annual Correspondents' Dinner with the Prime Minister. The event “An Evening with the Prime Minister” took place on 11 March 2013 at the Grand Ballroom, InterContinental Bangkok Hotel.

The Prime Minister said that the Government is implementing a strategy to move the country forward. Even with growth in 2012, the Government must do more to ensure that it can achieve consistent growth rates of around 4-5 percent in the long term. To achieve this, it needs to move up each of the value chain to enhance productivity while creating new competitive advantage. This requires new approaches in agriculture and industry.

In the case of industry, she said, the current sectors where Thailand has competitive advantage will continue to be promoted. Some of these include rubber, agro-business, petrochemical, electronics, and automotive industries. Moreover, the Government will also develop and explore new industries, such as bio-materials, clean energy, health, and creative industries.

One sector that Thailand has a clear competitive edge is the service industry. The Government plans to promote this sector further by creating a new comprehensive service experience, which will help promote longer stays by tourists. This includes the integration of hospitality to key attractions, including Thai food, local products or OTOP, spas, and visits to cultural sites.

Moreover, service will be expanded to medical tourism, where Thai hospitality will enhance the patient’s experience of post-surgery rehabilitation, complementing the high-quality health care and doctors.

In the agricultural sector, the Government will develop better zoning to allow the right products to be grown in the most effective areas. This will allow Thailand to support global food security by better managing demand and supply and developing more effective storage facilities.

With regard to investments in transportation and logistics, the Government has long underinvested in this sector and has had to rely on roads for around 86 percent of its transportation. This is very high when compared with other countries, and it has led to high energy costs, thus reducing Thailand’s competitiveness. In order to urgently address this issue, the Cabinet has just approved the initial plans to invest around 66 billion US dollars in transportation and logistics. Some of these projects include high-speed trains and dual train track development, a better overall road network for connecting ASEAN economic corridors, improved sea ports, and more border facilities to enhance border trade.


The Prime Minister explained that the shift from road to rail will significantly reduce time and cost of transportation of products to Thailand’s neighbors and Asia. Better linkages will lead to development of new towns, cities, and regional hubs in other parts of Thailand, and ultimately, neighboring countries, the ASEAN Community, and beyond. This will generate more income and consolidate Thailand’s role as the region’s connectivity and logistics hub.

She said that better infrastructure can boost demand and support long-term growth by linking various revenue-generating zones, from industrial areas to agricultural zones, new areas for tourists, and border areas. Living standards and quality of life of all citizens should increase through reduction of traffic and pollution in city areas. Faster and more convenient transportation to work leads to better productivity.

Crown Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde of Belgium to Visit Thailand

(12/03/2013)

His Royal Highness Prince Philippe, Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Belgium, together with Her Royal Highness Princess Mathilde of Belgium, will pay a royal visit to Thailand from 17 to 22 March 2013, as private guests of Their Majesties the King and Queen of Thailand.

Their Royal Highnesses will be accompanied by Mr. Didier Reynders, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belgium, and other high-ranking officials from the Belgian government.

As Chairman of the Belgian Foreign Trade Board, His Royal Highness will lead a business delegation of about 170 top executives from 105 leading companies in various sectors, such as alternative energy, pharmaceuticals, food and agro-industry, and logistics.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, during the royal visit to Thailand, Their Royal Highnesses will attend a range of important functions. His Majesty the King will grant an audience to the Royal Couple on 22 March 2013.

His Royal Highness Prince Philippe is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and many key economic ministers to discuss how to further enhance trade and investment partnership between the two nations.

The Prime Minister of Thailand will host an official dinner in honor of Their Royal Highnesses at Government House on 18 March 2013.

Apart from the official program, His Royal Highness will also visit the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate in Rayong Province, which houses many Belgian companies and plants, and visit the aquaculture industry in Phetchaburi province.

Her Royal Highness Princess Mathilde will carry out several activities to promote the role of women in society and business. She will also meet leading Thai businesswomen and representatives of international organizations.

Thailand and Belgium have enjoyed long and friendly relations. Belgium is Thailand’s important trade and investment partner from EU. As Prime Minister Yingluck has just made an official visit to Belgium on 5-6 March 2013, the trade mission led by Their Royal Highnesses is thus momentous in reinforcing the cooperation earlier discussed and further increasing business opportunities between the two kingdoms.

All Thais Urged to Lend Support to the Peace Dialogue Process on the Southern Situation

(12/03/2013)

A call has been made for all Thais to lend support to the Peace Dialogue process regarding the situation in the southern border provinces.

The call was made by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, who also urged all perpetrators of violence to join the Peace Dialogue in order to achieve a solution to the southern situation through concerted efforts.

Mr. Surapong referred to the draft General Consensus Document on Peace Dialogue signed by the Thai Secretary-General of the National Security Council, Lieutenant General Paradorn Pattanatabut, and the representative of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional Coordinate on 28 February 2013.

He pointed out that the Document clearly states that the form of discussion agreed upon is a peace dialogue with groups whose opinions and ideologies differ from that of the State. This, in turn, is an extract from Article 8 (2) of the National Policy on Administration and Development in the Southern Border Provinces 2012-2014, which states, “to further promote the continuity of the peace dialogue process with those whose opinions and ideologies differ from that of the State … as part of the stakeholders of the Southern Border Provinces’ problem in a unified manner as well as to seek further cooperation from foreign states or non-governmental organizations to support the said dialogue.”

The policy had been widely debated and acknowledged by Parliament on 28-29 March 2012. In this regard, Mr. Surapong said that the Dialogue will take place strictly within the framework of the Thai Constitution 2007 (B.E. 2550), which stipulates that separatism is not legally permissible. Thus, it is evident that the signing of the General Consensus Document strictly adheres to existing legal frameworks and only entails the beginning of a dialogue process between the National Security Council and groups holding different views and ideologies to that of the State. The signing does not confer any recognition upon the groups taking part in the dialogue, as mistakenly reported by some members of the Thai media.

Mr. Surapong explained that the result of the discussion between Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Mr. Najib Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia, states that 1) Malaysia does not condone the use of violence in resolving the situation in the Southern Border Provinces; 2) Malaysia does not support any form of secession; and 3) Malaysia does not provide shelter to the perpetrators of violence.

He said that during Prime Minister Yingluck’s visit to Sweden and Belgium, the leaders of both countries, as well as the European Union, all commended and supported the efforts undertaken by the Royal Thai Government to engage in a peace dialogue.

He stressed that all efforts by the Foreign Ministry on this matter have been exerted with the utmost care and circumspection, especially the consultation given to the National Security Council on the wordings of the General Consensus Document with due consideration for relevant laws and regulations. All actions taken with regard to this matter have been entirely in line with the framework of the Thai Constitution and have but one aim: to initiate the Peace Dialogue with various groups and stakeholders.

Government Ready to Listen to Public Opinion on Its Two-Trillion-Baht Infrastructure Mega-Projects

(10/03/2013)

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said that the Government was ready to listen to public opinion about its planned two-trillion-baht investment in infrastructure mega-projects, to be carried out until 2020.

Speaking in the weekly program “The Yingluck Government Meets the People” on 9 March 2013, the Prime Minister urged the people to visit the “Thailand 2020” Exposition, featuring the future of Thailand, with the huge investment plan over the next seven years.

The exposition is being held at the Government Complex on Chaeng Watthana Road in Bangkok from 8 to 16 March 2013. Apart from creating better understanding about the plan, involving mainly transport networks, the exposition also aims to create confidence among foreign investors.

Prime Minister Yingluck said that the two-trillion-baht infrastructure mega-projects would link with other ASEAN countries. The European Union is interested in joining the investment projects and expanding cooperation between ASEAN and European regions. She believed that huge infrastructure investment, which received a very positive response from the European Union, would contribute to Thailand’s economic growth and cut production costs in the long run.

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt stated that the Government would propose a draft bill empowering the Ministry of Finance to seek loans for financing the mega-projects. He explained that all regions of the country would benefit from the two-trillion-baht investment plan. The mega-projects are necessary, as the transport sector is a key factor for business operation and for enhancing the country’s competitiveness.

He said that oil prices were on the rise and road transport was the largest user of oil in Thailand, while transportation costs were increasing. This was one of the reasons for the Government’s efforts to focus on the modal shift from road transport to rail transport. Moreover, ASEAN is growing and will become an important production base in the future.

According to Minister Chadchart, transportation networks with other ASEAN countries will help improve Thailand’s potential and competitiveness. Thailand needs to prepare for the future, as the ASEAN population of 600 million, plus 1,400 million in China, will account for one-third of the global population. Thailand must promote infrastructure connectivity with other regions of the world, as well, and investment in the infrastructure mega-projects would provide new opportunities for the country.

Minister Chadchart said that among the construction projects under the two-trillion-baht investment plan are high-speed rail lines, double-track railways, sea ports, airport expansion, and road networks. He said that the investment budget for these projects would come from domestic and foreign sources, depending on the consideration of the Ministry of Finance. Part of the budget would also come from the regular funds of related state enterprises.

He added that the investment plan in infrastructure mega-projects would create job opportunities for about 500,000 people.

A Week-Long Thai Elephant Day Celebration Coinciding with CITES CoP16 in Thailand

(08/03/2013)

The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation is organizing a week-long Thai Elephant Day celebration from 9 to 15 March 2013, coinciding with the 16th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known in short as CITES CoP16.

CITES CoP16 is taking place at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center in Bangkok between 3 and 14 March, with the participation of ministers and high-level government representatives from over 30 countries.

The celebration of Thai Elephant Day 2013 is being held at Queen Sirikit Park near Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok. Activities include seminars and exhibitions, all aimed at heightening public awareness of the need for preservation of Thai elephants, to protect them from extinction.

Back in 1963, the Royal Forest Department on 13 March agreed to designate the white elephant as the national animal of Thailand. White elephants are rare and have special traits. According to ancient Thai beliefs, the more white elephants found in a king’s reign, the more glorious and prosperous his reign will be. It is also a common belief that a white elephant brings good luck. For a period of time, the national flag of Thailand displayed a white elephant to represent the country.

Aware of the importance of elephant conservation, the Asian Elephant Foundation of Thailand and related non-governmental organizations in 1998 proposed that there should be a special day for elephants in Thailand. The proposal was submitted to the Coordinating Subcommittee for the Conservation of Thai Elephants under the National Identity Board. The Coordination Committee decided to pick 13 March each year as Thai Elephant Day, based on the fact that the Royal Forest Department designated the white elephant as the national animal of Thailand on 13 March 1963.

In May 1998, the Cabinet approved the designation of 13 March as Thai Elephant Day every year, starting in 1999. The decision was aimed at raising and sustaining public awareness of the importance of elephants. It is also designed to promote public participation in elephant preservation.

The Deputy Director-General of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, Mr. Theerapat Prayurasiddhi, said that the destruction of food sources for elephants and the poaching of elephants pose a real threat to the survival of elephants in Thailand and other countries in Asia. The Department has come with measures to deal with the problem, based on the initiatives of Their Majesties the King and Queen.

For instance, he said, more food and water sources for wild elephants would be created. A fund has been set up to provide food for wild elephants in Thailand. The Department has required the registration of domestic elephants to protect elephants from being exploited and to prevent illegal ivory trade. Two royally initiated projects have been carried out, one on the rehabilitation of the elephant’s habitat and the other on the returning of elephants to nature.

Elephants hold a significant place in Thailand. They also form an important part of Thai culture and national symbols.

Thailand Agrees to Expand Trade and Investment with Sweden, Belgium, and the European Union

(07/03/2013)

Thailand has agreed to expand trade and investment with Sweden and Belgium, and it has good potential to serve as the European Union's gateway to the ASEAN region.

The issue was raised for discussion during the official visit of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to Sweden, Belgium, and the European Union Headquarters from 4 to 7 March 2013.

Prime Minister Yingluck invited Sweden to invest in Thailand's infrastructure projects, saying that Thailand would spend 66 billion US dollars, or two trillion baht, on developing its logistics and transport system linking with other countries in Southeast Asia. She assured Sweden of Thailand’s economic and political stability.

Both Thailand and Sweden also agreed to increase cooperation in science and technology, innovation, and research, with emphasis on alternative energy and green industries. They discussed the possibility of expanding cooperation in medical tourism, as well. About 350,000 Swedish tourists visit Thailand each year.

Today, Sweden ranks 33rd among Thailand’s trading partners and came seventh among the country’s trading partners in the European Union. Trade between the two countries reached 1.5 billion dollars in 2012, and is constantly on the rise.

In Belgium, Prime Minister Yingluck asked the Belgian government to consider Schengen visa waivers for Thai passport holders to promote people-to-people contact and facilitate trade and investment between the two countries. She also stated that Thailand was ready to support the operation of more flights between Bangkok and Brussels.

Both countries agreed to exchange knowledge and expertise in medical science, food safety, nanotechnology, innovation, high-level research and development, and logistics in order to enhance Thailand’s competitiveness. Prime Minister Yingluck stressed Thailand’s readiness to start negotiations on a Thailand-European Union Free Trade Agreement.

She said that Thailand was also ready to welcome Crown Prince Philippe of Belgium, who will lead a business delegation to visit Thailand between 17 and 22 March 2013 to strengthen Thai-Belgian relations. The delegation will consist of representatives from 150 companies. During the visit, both countries are expected to sign a Thai-Belgian Action Plan to promote bilateral cooperation. More than 90,000 Belgian tourists visit Thailand each year, and about 3,000 Thais are living in Belgium.

During the visit to the European Union Headquarters in Brussels, the Thai delegation held talks with the European Commission on Thailand-European Union free trade arrangements. Also in Brussels, Prime Minister Yingluck visited an exhibition on the registration of Thai jasmine rice “Khao Hom Mali Thung Kula Ronghai” under the European Union's Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) scheme. The Thai rice variety is the first product in Southeast Asia to be registered under this scheme. 

Campaign for the Use of Thai Fabric as a Way of Saving Energy

(06/03/2013)

A campaign will be launched to encourage the public, especially government officials, to wear clothes made from Thai fabric, as a way of saving energy.

Culture Minister Sontaya Kunplome has presented five patterns of Thai fabric designed for men and women for the Cabinet’s consideration.

Minister Sontaya said that the Cabinet, during its meeting on 5 March 2013, offered several suggestions on the proposed designs, so that they would be adaptable for use with fabric available in various parts of the country. At the recommendation of Cabinet members, the designs would be improved to make them more modern and more suitable for daily use and for various occasions.

The five patterns for both men and women include those designed to wear at work, casual attire, and semi-casual attire. They would be modified before being presented to the Cabinet again during its next meeting. Minister Sontaya said that it would not be compulsory for officials to opt for the Thai fabric. The campaign is considered part of the Government’s measures to cut energy use.

The scheduled disruption in natural gas supply from Myanmar from 5 to 14 April 2013 is likely to lower Thailand's electricity reserve. In anticipation of the electricity shortage, the Government is seeking cooperation from the public to help save energy and electricity. Government offices were told to set the temperature of their air conditioners at 25 degrees Celsius. Officials were urged to avoid wearing suits, jackets, and ties at work to save electricity used on air conditioning.

In this connection, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has suggested that the use of Thai fabric be promoted. She assigned the Ministry of Culture to come up with certain patterns designed for Cabinet members and others people to choose with Thai fabric.

The Ministry of Culture plans to hold a seminar on Thai fabric designs that reflect Thai identities. Leading designers would be invited to join the seminar. All 77 provinces in Thailand have their own styles for locally made fabric featuring traditional patterns.

The campaign for the use of Thai fabric will also help preserve Thailand’s cultural heritage and promote Thai wisdom, creativity, and craftsmanship. It will promote the local textile industry, as well.

Thai fabric is easy to maintain and suitable for the local climate. The various regions of the country have their distinctive fabric woven from cotton or silk in unique patterns. While traditionally pieces of cloth were worn tied around the waist and draped across the shoulders, or arranged to create fabulous costumes, nowadays such material is increasingly used for dress-making, individually or by the garment industry. This type of attire is designed with three concepts in mind: beauty, comfort, and function. 

Thailand Attaches Great Importance to Wildlife Conservation and Preservation

(05/03/2013)

Thailand is playing its part to take forward the agenda of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), particularly in protecting endangered species.

The 16th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, or CITES CoP16, is taking place at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center in Bangkok from 3 to 14 March 2013.

In her opening statement at the conference, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra stressed that promoting conservation and preservation of wildlife is Thailand’s priority. This is the second time that CITES CoP is being organized in Thailand; the first one in Thailand, CITES Cop 13, was in 2004.

She believes that the return of CITES CoP to Thailand shows the trust and confidence that CITES has in Thailand’s contributions to protecting wildlife, conserving natural habitats and promoting cooperation.

Thailand is implementing a National Master Plan of Wildlife Resources Conservation 2005-2014. The master plan sets clear targets to increase effectiveness in achieving standardized wildlife and habitat conservation and in pursuing programs to return rare and endangered species back to their original habitats.

Thailand also aims to protect the environment that provides the national habitat and ecosystems for species. The Prime Minister cited the Dong Phayayen – Khao Yai Forest Complex and the Thung Yai – Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries as examples. They are rich in bio-diversity and recognized as World Heritage sites. This broader approach not only better protects wildlife but also supports the Government’s policy to promote sustainable development and green growth.

Prime Minister Yingluck referred to CITES Cop 13 in Bangkok, where the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network was initiated. The network has made a lot of progress in such areas as capacity-building and harmonization of regulations. She pointed out that, with the ASEAN region containing much of the world’s known plant, animal and marine species, ASEAN has a lot to contribute. As ASEAN becomes a more connected community in 2015, it will be more important to protect the region from illegal cross-border activities. The Prime Minister hopes that protection of wildlife and cooperation against illicit trade in endangered species will become part of ASEAN’s strategy to reduce the negative impact of enhanced connectivity.

Regarding elephants, she explained that they are very important for Thai culture. Throughout Thai history, elephants have been the pillars of development for the country. Thailand is implementing its CITES obligations by cooperating to combat international trafficking in ivory. Unfortunately, many have used Thailand as a transit country for the illegal international ivory trade.

The Government’s measures to tackle this problem are as follows:

• First, the Government has enhanced intelligence and customs cooperation with foreign countries, which has helped limit the smuggling of ivory from African elephants;

• Second, it is strictly enforcing the current legal frameworks, by limiting the supply of ivory products to only those made from domestic elephants which is legal under the current legislation. Domestic elephants are also legal for use as local means of transportation in hilly forest areas. This can be done by enforcing comprehensive and system-wide registration of both the domestic elephants and ivory products and thereby further exposing illegal ivory trade and products;

• Third, as a next step, the Government will work toward amending the national legislation with the goal of putting an end to ivory trade and to be in line with international norms. This will help protect all forms of elephants including Thailand’s wild and domestic elephants and those from Africa.

The Prime Minister emphasized that no one cares more about elephants than the Thai people and that Thailand is prepared to work in partnership with all stakeholders, from civil society to local communities to CITES Parties.

M.R. Sukhumbhand Paribatra Re-Elected Bangkok Governor for Another Term

(04/03/2013)

M.R. Sukhumbhand Paribatra of the opposition Democrat Party was re-elected Bangkok Governor for another four-year term in office, following the Bangkok gubernatorial election on Sunday, 3 March 2013.

According to unofficial results, M.R. Sukhumbhand received 1,256,349 votes, an increase from 934,602 votes he won in the previous election. Coming second was Police General Pongsapat Pongcharoen of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, gaining 1,077,899 votes.

Police General Sereepisuth Temeeyaves, an independent candidate, ranked third, gaining 166,582 votes. Mr. Suharit Siamwalla, also an independent candidate, came fourth, receiving 78,825 votes, while Mr. Kosit Suwinijjit, another independent candidate, came in fifth place, gaining 28,640 votes.

The voter turnout was 63.98 percent, representing 2,715,640 votes, out of 4,244,465 eligible voters. The turnout was higher than that of the previous gubernatorial election, which came to only 51 percent. Out of the 50 districts in the city, Thawi Watthana saw the highest voter turnout, at 72 percent, while the lowest voter turnout was seen in Dusit district, at 56.85 percent.

Both M.R. Sukhumbhand and Police General Pongsapat surpassed one million votes. In the past, former Bangkok Governor Samak Sundaravej was the only candidate who was able to gain more than one million votes.

Speaking at a press conference, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra congratulated M.R. Sukhumbhand for his victory, and she pointed out that her government and Pheu Thai Party were ready to work seamlessly with the Bangkok Governor. Although the vote for Police General Pongsapat was not enough for him to serve as governor, she said that Pheu Thai was glad to continue to push for the implementation of policies it presented to the people.

Police General Pongsapat conceded defeat and said that he was ready to help Bangkok residents, although he did not win the election. He would discuss his future with Prime Minister Yingluck after she returned from an overseas trip. The Prime Minister is on a visit to Sweden, Belgium, and the European Union Headquarters from 4 to 7 March 2013.

Meanwhile, M.R. Sukhumbhand thanked the Prime Minister for pledging to work with him without a dividing line in order to move the city forward. He himself is also ready to work with the Government seamlessly, as well.

M.R. Sukhumbhand urged about 800,000 Bangkok residents who did not cast their votes for him at the election to help build Bangkok with him. He pledged to work harder and thanked Bangkok residents for trusting the Democrat Party to run the capital for 12 consecutive years.

Aged 60, M.R. Sukhumbhand was a lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, from 1980 to 1993. He served as Deputy Foreign Minister from November 1997 to February 2001. He was first elected Bangkok Governor on 11 January 2009.

M.R. Sukhumbhand officially submitted his resignation on 9 January 2013, one day before the completion of his four-year term as Bangkok Governor in order to be eligible to run for another term in office in the Bangkok gubernatorial election on 3 March 2013.

Two-Trillion-Baht Infrastructure Development Projects to Be Carried Out with Fiscal Discipline

(03/03/2013)

The Government will carry out two-trillion-baht infrastructure mega-projects, while taking into account fiscal discipline. A draft bill seeking a loan for financing the projects will be submitted to Parliament during the current parliamentary session, before April 2013.

Speaking in the weekly program “Yingluck Government Meets the People” on 2 March 2013, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong stated that the mega-projects involve mainly road, air, and maritime transport network development.

He said that the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Transport were working together in proposing the huge infrastructure development strategy and the draft bill to the Cabinet. The mega-projects would be carried out over the next seven and a half years and the implementation of the projects would be made known to the public.

Mr. Kittiratt said that the planned two-trillion-baht investment fund is worthwhile and in line with financial disciplinary principles. Thailand has set its public debt ceiling at not over 60 percent of GDP. At present, the country’s public debt stands at about 43 percent of GDP. Out of this percentage, 8 percent will not cause a burden to the national budget. These figures show that Thailand’s public debt is relatively low.

He explained that the two-trillion-baht loan would be secured gradually until the end of 2020. The Government would maintain fiscal discipline to ensure that debt repayment each year would not exceed 15 percent of the annual national expenditure. He believed that investment in the development of transport networks would cut logistics costs and reduce economic losses for the country.

Mr. Kittiratt said that the Government was ready to work with the private sector in investing in the mega-projects. It would have less of a burden in seeking investment funds, if the private sector is interested in co-investment.

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt explained that the Government had decided to focus on the development of transport networks, because Thailand’s infrastructure investment has been minimal in recent years. The country’s huge infrastructure investment took place in 1996 and 1997, when it accounted for 35-40 percent of the national budget. During the past five years, Thailand’s investment in infrastructure development accounted for only 15 percent.

He said that high transportation and logistics costs would make it difficult for Thailand to compete with neighboring countries. If no action is taken to reduce the costs in the next 10 years, the country’s competitiveness will decline. He expects that Thailand will be able to cut its logistics costs by 2 percent, from 15.2 percent now to 13.2 percent within the next seven years.

Mr. Chadchart cited the investment in two-trillion-baht infrastructure mega-projects as a new facet for national development and it would help reduce logistics costs.

Prime Minister Visits Sweden, Belgium, and the European Union Headquarters

(03/03/2013)

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is scheduled to make an official visit to the Kingdom of Sweden, the Kingdom of Belgium, and the European Union Headquarters from 4 to 7 March 2013.

The Prime Minister will be accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong, Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom, Industry Minister Prasert Boonchaisuk, and a group of leading business people.

In Sweden, Prime Minister Yingluck will have an audience with His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustav and a meeting and working luncheon with Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. The Prime Ministers of the two countries will witness the signing of two documents: the Second Thai-Swedish Joint Plan of Action and the Law Enforcement Cooperation Agreement.

On this occasion, Prime Minister Yingluck will visit “SymbioCity,” a model of urban development that combines sustainable transport, energy and water usage, and modern technology in an integrated manner. She will also attend a business dinner in Stockholm, where she will deliver a keynote address to promote Thai-Swedish investment. Sweden is now Thailand’s third-largest group of investors from the European Union.

In Belgium, Prime Minister Yingluck will have an audience with His Royal Highness Crown Prince Philippe, who will lead a business delegation to visit Thailand between 17 and 22 March 2013. She will also hold talks with her Belgian counterpart, Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, Mr. André Flahaut, President of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives, and Ms. Sabine de Bethune, President of the Belgian Senate.

While in Brussels, the seat of the European Union, the Prime Minister will meet the heads of the three key institutions of the European Union, namely Mr. José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission; Mr. Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council; and Mr. Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament.

The Prime Minister will attend a business networking reception and luncheon, organized by the Board of Investment of Thailand, for representatives of the Thai and Belgian private sector, where they will have the opportunity to create networks. She will also meet representatives of Fairtrade International to promote Thai agricultural products. The European Union is currently Thailand’s fourth-largest trading partner.

At a joint press conference in Brussels, the President of the European Commission will present a certificate to Prime Minister Yingluck on the registration of Thai jasmine rice “Khao Hom Mali Thung Kula Ronghai” under the European Union's Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) scheme. The Thai rice variety is the first product in Southeast Asia to be registered under this scheme.

The Prime Minister will depart Brussels on TG 8885 and arrive at Suvarnabhumi International Airport at 3:20 p.m. on 7 March. 

Agreement for Peace Dialogue to Ease Violence in the Southern Border Provinces of Thailand

(01/03/2013)

The Thai government has signed an agreement with the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), or National Revolutionary Front, paving the way for a dialogue process for peace in the southern border provinces of Thailand.

The signing of the “General Consensus on Peace Dialogue Process” took place in Kuala Lumpur on 28 February 2013, when Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra visited Malaysia for the Fifth Annual Consultation and a discussion on bilateral issues with Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib, Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Representing Thailand at the signing ceremony was the Secretary-General of the National Security Council, Lieutenant General Paradorn Pattanatabut, while BRN was represented by the Chief of the BRN Liaison Office in Malaysia, Ustaz Hassan Taib. The signing was witnessed by Datuk Mohamed Thajudeen Abdul Wahab, Secretary of Malaysia's National Security Council.

According to the general consensus, the Thai government has appointed Lieutenant General Paradorn to head the group supporting favorable environment creation for peace promotion in the southern border provinces of Thailand. It is willing to engage in peace dialogues with people who have different opinions and ideologies from the state as one of the stakeholders in solving the problem in the southern border provinces under the framework of the Thai Constitution. Malaysia would act as facilitator. All members of the Joint Working Group would be provided with safety measures throughout the entire process.

BRN is one of several groups blamed for violence in southern Thailand. Lieutenant General Paradorn said that the BRN group did not set any conditions for the peace dialogue. Talks with this group would start within two weeks and would be held on a continual basis. The Government would hold talks with several other groups, as well. He described the peace dialogue as the starting point for restoring peace in the southern border provinces, saying that Malaysia was ready to give support.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said that she had told the Malaysian leader that Thailand wanted to tackle the problem in the deep South on a sustainable basis. Both Thailand and Malaysia called for the stop of violent acts against innocent people in the southern border provinces in order to create mutual trust. Security agencies of both countries would coordinate in dealing with the peace process issue.

She said that the southern problem would be resolved based on a comprehensive approach covering socio-economic development. Thailand and Malaysia would continue to cooperate in confidence building measures under the “3Es approach,” comprising education, employment, and entrepreneurship, as a major mechanism to ease unrest in the South.

The Prime Minister cited the peace dialogue as a way of easing the southern problem at its root causes.

hailand to Be Removed from the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorist Financing Blacklist

(28/02/2013)

The Financial Action Task Force has decided to remove Thailand from its Public Statement under which Thailand was included on the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorist Financing (AML/CTF) blacklist.

The decision was made at a meeting of the Financial Action Task Force, an inter-governmental body, in Paris between 18 and 22 February 2013.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the Secretary-General of the Anti-Money Laundering Office, Police Colonel Seehanat Prayoonrat, spoke about the issue after the Cabinet meeting on 27 February.

The Financial Action Task Force is tasked with combating money laundering and terrorism financing worldwide. It has developed a series of recommendations that are recognized as the international standard for combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This organization also monitors the progress of its members in implementing necessary measures, reviews money laundering and terrorist financing techniques and counter-measures, and promotes the adoption and implementation of appropriate measures globally.

The Secretary-General of the Anti-Money Laundering Office explained that the Financial Action Task Force agreed to remove Thailand from the blacklist after the country had improved various measures in line with the international standard for combating money laundering. He said that Thailand was one of the countries included on the list in February 2012, since the Financial Action Task Force believed that Thailand lacked adequate steps against money laundering and terrorist financing.

He said that all agencies involved have joined hands in tackling this issue and that significant progress has been made. For instance, the Government has proposed two bills seeking to amend the Anti-Money Laundering Act and the Anti-Terrorism Act. The two amended bills were recently passed by Parliament.

However, the process of removing Thailand from the Public Statement of the Financial Action Task Force has not yet been completed. The task force will send experts for inspection in Thailand in May 2013 to ensure that Thailand fully enforces the amended Anti-Money Laundering Act and the Anti-Terrorism Act. Ministerial regulations must be issued, as well. Moreover, the supervision of the financial sector should be strengthened and financial institutions must act in accordance with the two laws seriously and effectively.

The experts will report results of their inspection to the Financial Action Task Force in June 2013. If the report confirms that Thailand has implemented the required measures, the Financial Action Task Force will completely remove Thailand from the list. 

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra Visits Malaysia

(27/02/2013) 

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is scheduled to visit Malaysia on 28 February 2013 for the Fifth Annual Consultation to follow up on the progress of various areas of cooperation and discuss bilateral issues with Dato' Sri Mohd Najib, Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Prime Minister Yingluck departs from Don Mueang at 10:45 a.m. and arrives in Kuala Lumpur at 1:45 p.m. Accompanying the Prime Minister are Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, Defense Minister Air Chief Marshal Sukumpol Suwanatat, Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt, Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom, Interior Minister Jarupong Ruangsuwan, and Energy Minister Raktapongpisal.

Thai and Malaysian leaders are expected to discuss and exchange views on various issues of common interest, such as a comprehensive approach to resolving the situation in the southern border provinces. The discussion is likely to cover socio-economic development and connectivity in border areas. It also includes the proposed construction of the two bridges across the Golok River linking Narathiwat province with the State of Kelantan at Sungai Golok - Rantau Panjang and Tak Bai-Pengkalan Kubor.

Other topics of discussion involve the integration of development plan and special economic zones of CIQ Sadao-Bukit Kayu Hitam, legal employment of Thai workers in Tom Yum restaurants (Thai restaurants) in Malaysia, and cooperation in the halal industry. Thailand has established a National Committee on the Promotion of Halal Business and Products to work with Malaysia’s Halal Industry Development Corporation in the areas of marketing, services, and research and development.

Both sides are also expected to discuss cooperation in trade and investment, such as the establishment of a Thailand – Malaysia Business Council and tourism development, particularly the linkage of Satun province with Langkawi and the Padang Besar – Hadyai – Bangkok and Chiang Mai railway line.

At 4:30 p.m. after the plenary session, both Prime Ministers will witness the signing of the Agreement on Border Crossing and the MOU on Cooperation in Youth and Sports. A joint press conference is scheduled for 4:45 p.m.

The Malaysian Prime Minister will host a dinner in honor of the Prime Minister of Thailand and her delegation at 8:00 p.m. Prime Minister Yingluck will depart Kuala Lumpur at 10:00 p.m. and arrive in Bangkok at 11:00 p.m. on the same day.

Malaysia is Thailand’s fourth-largest trading partner. In 2012, trade between the two countries amounted to 25.5 billion US dollars, of which 65 percent was from border trade. Bilateral trade between them constitutes 57 percent of the total trade between Thailand and neighboring countries. In 2012, 2.56 million Malaysian tourists came to Thailand, while almost one million Thai tourists visited Malaysia.

Hong Kong Investors Assured of Thailand's Economic Stability

(27/02/2013)

Prime Minister Yinluck Shinawatra has assured Hong Kong investors of Thailand's economic stability, which is favorable to the investment situation.

The Prime Minister paid a courtesy call on Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and met the business community during her visit to Hong Kong on 26 February 2013 to encourage more investors to invest in Thailand.

She said that the Thai economy in 2012 grew by 6.4 percent, an increase of 0.1 percent over the previous year. As for 2013, Thailand’s economic growth is expected to stand at 5-6 percent. The country’s unemployment rate is low, at only 0.4 percent, while inflation is manageable, at 3 percent.

Thailand’s public debt accounts for 43.5 percent of GDP. Its national budget has been set at more than two trillion baht, accounting for 17 percent of GDP. The Government plans to have a balanced budget within 2017.

Prime Minister Yingluck stated that the Thai government has a policy to promote foreign direct investment, especially in high technology and environmentally friendly industries. She pointed out that the Government would invest 2.2 trillion baht in major infrastructure projects in the next seven years. This would help cut production costs, distribute wealth, and promote connectivity with neighboring countries and the region. Another 350 billion baht would be spent on investment in water management to protect industries and economic zones from flooding.

Among other interesting projects is the construction of a high-speed train system, linking Bangkok with the North, the Northeast, the West, and the South. The Government would expand Suvarnabhumi International Airport to accommodate the growing number of passengers. It also plans to build a motorway from Bangkok to the Thai-Myanmar border, connecting with the Dawei deep- sea port in Myanmar.

Prime Minister Yingluck and the Hong Kong Chief Executive also witnessed the signing of the Cooperation Arrangement between Thailand and Hong Kong on Strengthening Trade and Economic Relations. Since Hong Kong is a major market for Thai rice, Thailand urged Hong Kong to cooperate in trade promotion for Thai rice.

Speaking to Hong Kong tourism operators, the Prime Minister told them that Thailand was exploring new tourism destinations, expanding airports, and developing new transportation routes to facilitate travel and offer more alternatives.

Moreover, she said, Thailand is developing itself into a medical tourism hub in this region. The Government attaches great importance to security and safety for tourists and is ready to cooperate with Hong Kong’s tourism industry in the form of “strategic partnership.”

Today, Hong Kong is Thailand’s ninth-largest trading partner. Trade between Thailand and Hong Kong in 2012 amounted to 14 billion US dollars. Hong Kong is also the second largest group of investors in Thailand after Japan.

Thailand and the Republic of Korea Agree to Expand Bilateral Trade

(26/02/2013)

Thailand and the Republic of Korea have agreed to expand annual bilateral trade to 30 billion US dollars by 2016 and to push forward the feasibility study of concluding an economic partnership agreement between the two countries.

The agreement was reached during discussion between Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Madame Park Geun-hye, the new and first female President of the Republic of Korea, at the presidential residence.

The discussion came after Prime Minister Yingluck attended the presidential inauguration ceremony of President Park at the National Assembly on 25 February 2013, the last day of her two-day visit to the Republic of Korea. She was the first foreign leader to meet the new President of the Republic of Korea after her official assumption of the office.

The Prime Minister reaffirmed close relations between Thailand and the Republic of Korea as “strategic partners” on political, economic, and social dimensions and emphasized Thailand’s intention to continue its cooperation in all areas with the Republic of Korea. President Park also expressed readiness to continue to develop bilateral ties toward “strategic partnership,” as agreed earlier.

Both leaders were pleased with the modern roles of women, who were increasingly acknowledged and empowered in political, economic, and social spheres. As female leaders, President Park and Prime Minister Yingluck would join hands in pushing for further development of women’s quality of life, rights, and empowerment to ensure greater opportunities for them.

On this occasion, Prime Minister Yingluck mentioned Thailand’s National Development Fund for Women, aimed at enhancing the potential of women and helping disadvantaged women, so that they can live with dignity.

Concerning investment cooperation, both leaders agreed to increase investment between the two countries. Vast opportunities are still open for Korean investment in Thailand, especially in automotive, steel, and energy industries, as well as in infrastructure. The South Korean leader was told that Thailand was developing itself into an ASEAN connectivity hub.

Prime Minister Yingluck also extended her official invitation to the new South Korean President to attend the 2nd Asia-Pacific Water Summit (2nd APWS), hosted by Thailand in May 2013. President Park expressed her interest in attending the summit.

After the bilateral meeting with President Park Geun-hye, the Prime Minister and her delegation left the presidential residence for Seoul Airbase military airport to proceed to Hong Kong.

Promoting Reading Habit among Thai People

(26/02/2013)

The Office of the Non-Formal and Informal Education, under the Ministry of Education, has launched the "Smart Book Home" project to instill in Thai people a love for reading, especially those living in rural and remote areas.

The project calls for the establishment of community libraries, or community learning centers, in all villages nationwide. The objective is to provide opportunities for local people to have greater access to lifelong education through reading.

According to the Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister, Mr. Phongthep Thapkanjana, the project is in response to the Cabinet resolution on 5 August 2009 that included the promotion of reading in the national agenda. The Cabinet also designated 2 April, the birthday of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the Love of Reading Day. The period between 2009 and 2018 was also designated the Decade of Reading.

There are currently about 80,000 villages in Thailand. Under the Smart Book Home project, a target has been set to establish a total of 41,800 smart book homes in 2013. Out of this number, 1,800 will be established in the three southern border provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, and four districts of Songkhla (Chana, Thepha, Na Thawi, and Saba Yoi).

A smart book home, or community library, must be located in a place people would consider the “center” of the village, such as a coffee shop, the residence of a community leader, a multi-purpose building, the village cooperative, or a pavilion in the middle of the village. There will be volunteers living in the village to help promote reading.

Mr. Phongthep said that the Government would provide financial support for each community library to buy books, newspapers, and magazines, so that local residents could have updated news and information. Book donations from the public are also welcome. The center would also hold activities to promote reading in order to broaden the knowledge of Thai people.

He said that the Ministry of Education planned to expand the project to cover another 40,000 villages by 2014. Although modern information technology in the forms of smart phones and iPads or tablets is available, Mr. Phongthep said that books remain important for acquiring knowledge.

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General of the Office of the Non-Formal and Informal Education, Mr. Prasert Boonruang, pointed out that the Smart Book Home project would stimulate interest in reading among the Thai people in preparation for the soon-to-be ASEAN Community. More knowledge would enable the people to adjust to the changing situation and help develop the country.

He said that after the project covers the whole country, it is expected that the Thai per capital reading rate of five books at present will increase to 20 books per year in 2015 when ASEAN Community is in place. Looking at per capita reading in other ASEAN countries, Viet Nam is at 60 books, Singapore 45 books, and Malaysia 40 books.

Public Facilities to Be More Available for the Disabled Living in and Visiting Thailand

(25/02/2013)

People with disabilities will find it more convenient to live in and visit Thailand, as the Government is attaching greater importance to building public facilities for the disabled.

Speaking in the weekly program “Yingluck Government Meets the People” on 23 February 2013, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra cited the care for the disabled, the elderly, women, and children as part of the Government’s policy to tackle social disparity.

The Prime Minister stated that she wanted to see serious campaigns to make travel easier and more convenient not only for people with disabilities but also for older persons. Since Thailand is becoming an ageing country because of the growing number of older persons, she stressed the need to prepare facilities for them.

In this regard, the Prime Minister called on all agencies to act in accordance with a ministerial regulation, stipulating that all public facilities, including buildings, transportation, and other services must be made accessible for people with disabilities. Without public facilities suitable for them, disabled persons will face difficulties when traveling to various places for learning, working, or social activities.

The Prime Minister said that she was informed by many disabled persons that they had to rely on taxis for transportation, which is expensive. All relevant agencies must join hands in modifying the public transport system and pavements to make them more suitable for the disabled. Pregnant women would also benefit from the facilities. She said that society should not regard disabled and older persons as burdens. This group of people should be empowered, so that they will be able to live happily with others.

The Government wanted to see all ministries work with the private sector in order to provide disabled persons with more facilities and employment opportunities. Although many companies have given good cooperation, the Government wanted to step up the campaigns on this matter. Altogether, 17 agencies would be called for a meeting to accelerate the translation of the ministerial regulation into action.

She pointed out that various areas at Government House would be modified, so that people on wheelchairs would be able to move in and out easily. The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security has already adjusted rules and regulations on facilities and services for disabled persons. All government agencies should start first, since people often come for official contact. So certain facilities should be modified for the accessibility of people with disabilities, and the modification is unlikely to require high costs.

The Prime Minister said that she had learned from the Association of the Physically Handicapped of Thailand that a “universal design” had been introduced, which was suitable for the disabled, and that this design could be adjusted for the use of everyone. She said that the Government would like to see Thailand become a center for the development of such a design for both disabled and older persons.

The Government also wanted to develop tourism for people with disabilities and older persons by removing barriers that prevent them from enjoying travel. Making tourism accessible to this group of people from various countries would make Thailand better known in the world at large.

A 90-Day Visa Granted to Foreigners from Six Countries Seeking Medical Services in Thailand

(25/02/2013)

Visitors from six Gulf Cooperation Council countries seeking medical services in Thailand will be granted a 90-day visa on entry.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra announced the decision at a press conference held on 22 February 2013 at the Ministry of Public Health.

The decision is in line with the Government’s policy of developing Thailand into a medical hub. At the initial stage, the visa extension from 30 days to 90 days will be granted to nationals of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the State of Kuwait, the Sultanate of Oman, the State of Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Prime Minister Yingluck said that, under the new rule, which took effect on 4 January 2013, medical tourists from the six countries are allowed to come with no more than four accompanying persons. They need to produce appointment documents from a hospital in Thailand, bank statements, and other relevant documents.

The Prime Minister said that during her visit to Gulf Cooperation Council countries, she discovered that Thailand’s healthcare service has attracted many patients from these countries, which were also interested in cooperating with Thailand in medical service development.

She believed that the Government’s policy of developing Thailand into a medical hub would promote medical tourism and generate more income. This privilege under the medical hub project would be extended to other ASEAN countries when the ASEAN Community is in place in 2015. ASEAN, with a combined population of 590 million, would become a major market for Thai health services.

The policy to develop Thailand into an international medical center focuses on three areas: service hub for modern medicine, traditional Thai medical service, and alternative medicine, academic hub, and product hub.

Public Health Minister Pradit Sinthawanarong said that, in 2012, foreign visitors sought medical services here on more than two million trips. Popular health services include medical check-ups, cosmetic surgery, transsexual surgery, dental care, orthopedic surgery, and heart surgery. Medical tourism earned Thailand 121,658 million baht in 2012.

He said that the Ministry of Public Health has also provided information about medical services for foreign visitors at the counter service at Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Thailand is known to offer top-quality medical treatment at a reasonable cost. Modern facilities and equipment, as well as qualified medical doctors, nurses, and technical staff, are considered advantageous for Thailand. Traditional Thai and alternative medicine is also recognized widely. 

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to Visit the Republic of Korea and Hong Kong

(22/02/2013)

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will visit the Republic of Korea and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region from 24-26 February 2013.

The visit to the Republic of Korea on 24-25 February is at the invitation of President-Elect Park Geun-hye. The Prime Minister will be in Hong Kong on 25-26 February as guest of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

In the Republic of Korea, she is scheduled to attend Ms. Park Geun-hye's inauguration as president, which is a significant event showcasing women’s empowerment in the administration of state affairs. Prime Minister Yingluck will take this opportunity to congratulate the first female President of Korea and will call on President-Elect Park Geun-hye to join hands in promoting women’s empowerment development in the region.

She will also reaffirm the incoming President of South Korea as Thailand’s “strategic partner,” an initiative during the regime of President Lee Myung-bak, and Thailand’s intent to work with South Korea on the goal of 13-billion-US-dollar mutual trade volume in five years, as agreed earlier with the outgoing President.

Furthermore, 2013 marks the 55 years of diplomatic relations between Thailand and South Korea. With South Korea’s considerable success in water management, Prime Minister Yingluck also plans to invite the new President to attend the 2nd Asia-Pacific Water Summit, to be hosted by Thailand in May 2013.

On this occasion, she will also pay a courtesy call on the outgoing President Lee Myung-bak at the presidential residence to thank him for his constant effort to strengthen mutual relations between Thailand and South Korea and to bid farewell to the outgoing President. The Speaker of South Korea’s National Assembly, Mr. Kang Chang-hee, will host a dinner in honor of the Thai Prime Minister.

During her state visit to Hong Kong, Prime Minister Yingluck will stress on investment opportunities in Thailand formulated under the national strategies, in order to attract leading investors and financiers from Hong Kong. She will also present Thailand’s potential as the regional connectivity hub.

Apart from meeting Hong Kong’s executive-level bankers and financiers, the Prime Minister will also meet leading travel companies to promote Thailand’s tourism. She will hold discussion with Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who has recently assumed the position. During the discussion, she will reaffirm mutual relations and cooperation on trade and investment promotion.

In addition, the Ministry of Finance and the Board of Investment of Thailand will hold a parallel event under the theme “Hong Kong Roadshow - Thailand’s Strategies: A Road Map for Real Opportunities.” Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong will give a keynote speech on investment opportunities in Thailand. Other activities include a seminar to promote investment in Thailand and meetings between Thai executive bankers and financiers and their Hong Kong counterparts.

Internal Security Act Likely to Be Enforced in Certain Areas in the Three Southern Border Provinces

(21/02/2013)

The Government is considering the possibility of replacing the Executive Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations with the 2008 Internal Security Act in certain areas in the three southern border provinces.

Security officials responsible for handling the southern situation have discussed the issue with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who stressed the need for further discussions and assessment before the decision would be made.

The decision is likely to be made before 19 March 2013, when the existing three-month emergency decree expires. The emergency decree was announced on 19 July 2005, covering Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and four districts of Songkhla (Chana, Thepha, Na Thawi, and Saba Yoi). Its enforcement lasts three months each time before it is renewed. The law was described then as a more adequate legal instrument with which state officials could deal with “emergency situations” in the deep South appropriately and with greater efficiency.

In late 2009, the Internal Security Act was announced in the four districts of Songkhla to replace the emergency decree. Later, on 23 December 2010, the Cabinet revoked the emergency decree in Mae Lan district, Pattani province, replacing it with the Internal Security Act. Mae Lan was the first area in the three southern border provinces to be covered by the Internal Security Act. Violent incidents in Mae Lan dropped significantly from 12 in 2009 to only three in 2010, and no local residents have left their homeland to live elsewhere.

Altogether, the Internal Security Act now covers five districts in the deep South. The Ministry of Interior, the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center, and the governors of the three provinces will assess the situation before proposing the areas that should be replaced with the Act.

Section 21 is considered the core of the Internal Security Act, as it provides a channel for misled militants to turn a new leaf by accepting to undergo re-education that will take no more than six months in lieu of facing trial. But this must be passed through a screening process to ensure that the perpetrators have been misled. The Act intends to seek ways to end the southern unrest that has continued for nine years now.

On the occasion of his visit to Pattani on 20 February 2013 to inspect the southern situation, Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army General Prayut Chan-O-Cha discussed with local authorities and residents the enforcement of the Internal Security Act. He also met a group of 200 misled militants who have joined the authorities in peace-building in the South.

General Prayut said that the tackling of southern problems was not only a matter of security. All agencies involved need to create better understanding among local people and encourage them to take part in problem-solving. Ensuring justice and respecting for human rights must be emphasized, as well, for the goal of restoring peace in the deep South.