By Imtiaz Muqbil,
Thailand and its ASEAN neighbours can expect to get more leisure and business travellers, as well as students from Africa in the wake of a ground-breaking visit by Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda between July 28 – August 2, 2013.
A range of agreements covering trade, investment, tourism, culture and education cooperation were signed. Citing Thailand’s strategic geographic location at the heart of Asia, Mrs Yingluck spoke for the enormous potential of stronger linkages with the equally strategic located East African countries, all three of which are rich with natural resources such as natural gas, minerals, and fishery.
In two speeches, Mrs Yingluck referred to Africa as “one of the cradles of civilization” known for its great cultural diversity and home to 11 of the world’s fastest growing economies. More than 65% of Africa’s 1,100 million citizens are under 35 years of age, indicating future growth potential amongst urban communities and the middle-class, as well as prospects for Thais to export consumer products and invest in infrastructure.
Equally important is the strong shift towards democracy in Africa. Similar economic and political transformations are taking place in Asia.
At a broader regional level, the time is ripe to advance cooperation between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the African Union (AU), both of which have great economic potential, and share development experiences and common goals. Pooling their strengths can benefit the world and help enhance their “voice” on the international stage.
Said Mrs Yingluck, “The most important issue for this partnership will be to enhance inter-regional connectivity. Better transportation links between Africa and Asia are essential, by sea, land, and air. Indeed, the Indian Ocean links the two regions in progress and prosperity so we need to make better use of it.”
Calling Thailand the “logistics hub of ASEAN,” she said that the project to build a land bridge connecting the upcoming Dawei seaport in Myanmar on the Indian Ocean to Laem Chabang seaport in Thailand to Vietnamese ports such as Da Nang on the Pacific Ocean will significantly shorten the distance and costs for distribution of African exports in Asia.
“But another aspect of connectivity which is equally important is connectivity of ideas through dialogue. We should work more closely together to enhance people-to-people links, from more tourism to greater cultural and youth exchanges between the two regions.”
Mrs Yingluck was accompanied by 59 representatives of the Thai private sector in six areas of business: energy/alternative energy, construction, tourism and medical tourism, textile, gems and jewellery, and automotive. She highlighted the following measures being taken by the Thai government:
First, to enhance access for African products to Thai markets, Thailand is finalizing some issues on the World Trade Organisation duty-free, quota-free market access privileges and will announce it at the next WTO meeting later this year. This initiative should help build momentum for greater trade between Asia and Africa.
Second, to promote HRD and capacity-building for African youth, Thailand is launching new internships, and scholarships in agriculture, health and tourism in order to build new leaders for African-Asian partnerships. This will be supplemented by a new “Thai Volunteers Programme” for Africa where young Thai professionals will work with their African partners on development cooperation projects in Africa.
Third, for food security and better public health, Thailand is ready to share its knowledge on sustainable agriculture and food processing. It is also ready to share experiences on Thailand’s Universal Health Coverage (UHC), as well as strengthen cooperation to fight malaria, HIV/AIDs and other pandemics.
In order to firm-up these measures and generate new ideas on the Thai Africa Initiative, Thailand will host a Thai-African High Level Dialogue in February 2014. The leaders of Uganda, Tanzania and Mozambique have been invited to attend.
Further details on Mrs Yingluck’s trip to each country:
Tanzania is seeking Thai sector investment in the fields of energy, hospitals, and hotels, as well as Thai expertise in agricultural product processing and jewellery cutting, energy and construction. A number of Thai companies have invested in Tanzania’s agricultural, spa and jewellery sectors. Thailand also agreed to provide 10 scholarships for Master’s degree studies to Tanzanian students as well as exchange academicians and experts. Tanzania has requested mathematics and science teaching volunteers from Thailand.
Thailand’s national oil company PTT Exploration and Production (PTTEP) has invested about US$2 billion in Mozambique where over 100 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves have been discovered, four times more than that in Thailand. PTT Exploration and Production has also been entrusted by the Mozambican Government to draft the country’s master plan on energy.
A major Thai construction conglomerate, Italian-Thai Development, has invested in Mozambique’s railroad system and seaport development. The seaport, in particular, will become the largest deep-sea port in Africa and can be linked to the Dawei deep-sea port with only eight days of sailing. Furthermore, Thai companies are seeking to invest more in the Mozambique jewellery sector.
Thailand offered ten Master’s degree scholarships and short-term training scholarships in the fields of agriculture, tourism, human resources development, and medicine. Thailand will also expand the “Thai Volunteers” project which helps young Thai people travel to Africa to share their knowledge and experiences particularly in agriculture and public health. Thailand will assist the rehabilitation project of Itojo Central Primary School, initiated by the Ugandan President’s wife. Both countries also agreed to establish the twin cities of Chiang Mai and Uganda’s Jinja.
Visitors from Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique in 2011-2012
Source: Immigration Bureau, Royal Thai Police Department
As indicated below, the number of visitors from these countries to Thailand is almost negligible. In the light of the progress made by the Prime Minister’s visit, there is no doubt that the only way they will go is up.