Investing in the future
American Chamber of Commerce president on Thai-US relations
Although the USA Fair was called off last year because of the coup, the annual event will make its comeback this year at CentralWorld, from Friday until Sunday.
Organised by the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham), the fair features a wide array of American products, services, and education programmes that will be showcased and offered at special prices.
In preparation for the event, Life sits down with Darren Buckley, president of Amcham, who has been in the financial service sector for almost 30 years, to talk about the fair, as well as US-Thai relations.
What will people be able to do at the fair, besides shopping?
Besides American companies trying to raise awareness about some of the goods and services they provide here in Thailand, there will be more information in terms of the relations between the two countries — economic and military aid, the work that happens in health care and all the types of co-operation and collaboration that goes on between the two countries. We are trying to raise awareness of the depth and breadth of the US-Thai relationship.
How do you think American products fare with Thais, compared with products from other countries?
Pretty high. The US, as you know, is one of the largest foreign direct investors in Thailand, with about $17 billion in FDI. If you look at the total investment in Thailand from US companies, that investment is about $50 billion. US companies employ about 250,000 Thais here.
That size of investment obviously demonstrates that Thais are quite happy to buy American goods and use American products. Certainly American companies here strive hard to make sure that their products are desired by Thais.
How does the US view Thailand compared to other countries in the region?
Thailand is a very important part to the US. Asean itself is of significant importance to the US, and investment in Asean, on a cumulative basis, is more than $200 billion. If you think that $50 billion of that is invested in Thailand, that is 25%.
Total US investment in Asean is bigger than the combined investment in Korea, China and Japan. Asean is important and Thailand is a critically important part of Asean. It's the oldest ally of the US in the region, so this is a long-term friendship.
Has the current sluggish economic circumstances affected US investment in Thailand?
Certainly, I would say that in some companies, earnings are a little weaker than they would expect to see. But in terms of overall investment, no, there's been no change in investment.
American companies are very much committed to Thailand. They are working very hard to ensure that Thailand is able to continue to play a leadership role in Asean and, at the end of the day, Thailand has sustainable economic growth for the future. With $50 billion invested in this market, American companies are very much vested in the success of Thailand and the Thai economy.
Has the current political situation affected US investment?
You have to differentiate. There are a few differences of opinion between the US government and the current Thai government. The US believes that democracy is important and, obviously, last year's coup at least suspended Thailand's existing form of democracy at that time. But, at the end of the day, it's for Thailand to work out what forms and shapes democracy should take.
Just because there are differences of opinion — I'm sure where you have friends or family, you occasionally have differences of opinion — that doesn't mean you walk away from each other. The relationship is still strong. It has been built over 182 years of collaboration, ever since the first treaty was signed in 1833. Differences of opinion should be respected between partners. But at the end of the day, Thailand and the US will continue to be close on a long-term basis.
How does Amcham continue to promote business in Thailand?
Well, that's the political aspect. We are here from a business perspective. We may have to adjust. American companies will adjust their business activities based more on the economic environment. So what we are looking for is how the economy is moving forward. What are the opportunities for domestic sales? What are the opportunities for manufacturing for export? And how does that compare with other countries in the region?
At the end of the day, for investment decisions to take place, what American companies are looking for is an understanding of the outlook in terms of long-term stability. We have a very stable environment today. But will it remain stable in the long term? If it does, that is more conducive to investment.