Trying to change the way people think is one of the toughest jobs anyone can face, and like many other Thai ambassadors stationed around the world, Pisan Manawapat, is trying to do that with India.
Attitudes people have held about foreign countries since childhood are hard to change, but Mr Pisan believes he is making progress. Part of his job is to increase the awareness of Thai businesses about the potential they could realise in India, a market that is preparing for a new growth phase in the years ahead.
As part of the effort to promote better awareness, the Royal Thai Embassy in New Delhi has asked all its diplomatic staff from the various regions of the country to contribute articles to the embassy-funded website www.thaiindia.net. It is trying to place more articles online and in Thai print media to promote investment into India.
India, which has trailed China in its growth phase, is not an easy place to do business, and it is necessary to be patient to be successful. Yet there are many Thai companies that have succeeded in India, says Mr Pisan.
Charoen Pokphand Group, Thai Summit Group, Italian-Thai Development, Delta Electronics and Rockworth are among the companies that have done well so far by investing in India, although more should be joining the bandwagon in his view.
For businesspeople looking for quick results, Mr Pisan acknowledges that China tends to be their first choice. But he believes India has an edge in terms of investor protection and the rule of law.
“It depends on each situation. People who invest in China are looking for quick ways to set up a business but they are fearful of having their things copied,” he says. “But India has an independent judiciary and it can be very fair to all parties, be they foreigners or locals or even government.”
India, he says, is moving fast in various fields and companies are investing heavily in research and development as a way to add value to their products.
Mr Pisan has done everything he can to try to promote doing business in India from setting up meetings with high-profile ministers, down to following up on every detail agreed on more than a year ago when Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra visited India as the chief guest during the Republic Day celebrations in 2012.
“All I can say is I have done my best, but why Thai businesses don’t invest is something I cannot answer,” he admits.
On the Thai side, the decision-making process can be very slow, he acknowledges. For example, some Thai companies had asked for a cluster area where they could locate their plants together and the Indian government has agreed in principle, but the Thai companies cannot agree on where that cluster should be built.
Some want it near the port, some want to be near the raw material source and some want to be where there is a market, although in his view the best place to have a cluster is the state of Gujarat. It is one of the very few states in India that has an abundance of electricity and is also near markets and ports.
Given the advantages, the state also asks for premium in everything it does, but he ambassador believes the premium is justified.
“In my view Gujarat is the best place, as there are lots of industrial estates and they have an excess supply of electricity, but they are also the most expensive area to be in,” he says.
“Electricity costs are 25% higher than in most other states but most companies don’t have to use their backup generators, and companies pay [the higher rate] as they say there is 25% more certainty in doing business.”
Apart from this, Gujarat has lots of ports and the entire state apparatus is more geared to being pro-business.
To promote business in Gujarat, Mr Pisan held a seminar in Bangkok with people from the state to brief participants on issues and opportunities. About 120 people attended and the visitors answered all the questions that the Thais had.
“I used government funds to pay for all of this but only 23 companies turned up for the follow-up meetings in Gujarat, where they were even able to meet with the state’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi,” Mr Pisan said.
“The ball is now in the private sector’s court, I have done enough and now I have to ask the private sector why they still remain sidelined even though I have done everything they asked for and even more.”
The meeting with Mr Modi, a potential candidate to be the next prime minister of India, he said, took place at the minister’s residence over a weekend, as the minister did not have enough time during working days. Mr Modi was given a list of things that the Thai companies were looking for and he agreed to most of the issues.
“As an ambassador, I can say I have done my best. The job of the embassy is to pave the way which is we have been doing, we paved the way to the fullest,” he says.
“After that it is their job. It’s not my business to push for deals as these are business decisions, but if the Thai companies have problems then they can come to us to seek our help and we can try to help or recommend ways to go about it.”
About the author
Writer: Umesh Pandey