Most Thais probably think of Africa as a far-off land filled with wild animals. Africa is, in fact, an emerging continent full of opportunities; it is the next frontier of global economic growth.
This continent comprises 20% of the world's land mass spread between its 54 countries, with a population of more than one billion and rich natural and mineral resources. Oil, natural gas and coal can also be found in this fertile land.
More importantly, Africa is rapidly transforming with a high rate of growth and rising levels of affluence. There are now seven African countries which are among the world's top economic performers.
Many parts of the continent will soon become important global economic centres with linkages to other global hubs, particularly in Asia.
The history of ties between Thailand and Africa dates back decades. We are not that far apart. Some African countries have had friendly relations with Thailand since the 1960s, especially in terms of trade and economic ties.
Thailand has also rendered development cooperation to African countries, providing scholarships for training and education in the fields of agriculture, public health and human resource development.
The current government recognises that Africa possesses great potential and economic opportunities, and can be a major partner for Thailand. Therefore, with forward-looking foreign policy, the government is determined to further enhance relations and cooperation with Africa.
Thailand itself is also experiencing change. Its high economic growth necessitates the need to explore new markets and energy sources not only for Thailand, but also for Asia's vibrant economic dynamism. At the same time, Africa's demand for goods and commodities presents a beneficial opportunity to which Asia can respond.
Moreover, with the introduction of the Asean Economic Community in 2015 and its strategic location in the centre of Southeast Asia, Thailand is a natural hub and gateway to the region and beyond. Development of the Dawei project in Myanmar also strengthens Thailand's place as a vital link between Asia and Africa.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has drafted the "Thai-African Initiatives" as the first ever official long-term road map to elevate the partnership between Thailand and the continent of Africa. It aims to provide a forum to identify innovative ways to enhance economic links and address common challenges, as well as to forge a new common agenda on sustainable growth and development.
Thailand is ready to exchange views and experiences on economic opportunities as well as development challenges with Africa.
As the first stepping stone towards forging this closer partnership, the ministry celebrated African Day yesterday, which was attended by ambassadors from all African countries.
The First Senior Officials' Meeting on the Thai-African Initiatives will be held in preparation for the Thai-African High-Level Dialogue, a forum for Thai and African leaders in November. The Senior Officials' Meeting will lay down the groundwork to promote the partnership between Thailand and Africa based in two key areas _ economic partnership and development partnership.
The African participants will also meet representatives from the Thai public, private and civil society sectors, and members of the press.
The ministry believes the Thai-African Initiatives will create momentum towards promoting common growth and mutual prosperity. In addition, the initiatives will ultimately lead towards a broader vision for an enhanced partnership between Asia and Africa so as to forge common agendas for development, the missing link between the two growing continents.
Narong Sasitorn is director-general, Department of South Asian, Middle East and African Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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Writer: Narong Sasitorn