What joining OECD means to Thailand

What joining OECD means to Thailand

Thailand's bid to become a member of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) could be extremely challenging owing to the ever-changing geopolitical landscape, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region. Since the release of the OECD's Indo-Pacific Strategic Framework last year, the Paris-based intergovernmental organisation has been doubling its efforts to woo more members from the region. Both the region's No.1 and No.2 economies, Indonesia and Thailand, are high on the list.

Southeast Asia has always been the OECD's main priority area. Yet countries in the region appear reluctant as membership demands countries align their political and economic direction with the OECD's standards and practices. However, with the new strategic environment emerging, the OECD has decided to move beyond the current scope to engage with the broader Indo-Pacific. OECD -- known as the world's largest consortium of modern and industrialised economies, perceives the Indo-Pacific region as a harbinger of the global economy in the years, if not decades, to come. More than half of the world's population lives in the Indo-Pacific, and almost 60% of global GDP and two-thirds of global growth are generated in the Indo-Pacific.

Notably, some of the OECD strategic objectives align with the Thai government's national development goals. Like the OECD, Thailand also wants to build a strong, inclusive, sustainable economic recovery, particularly from the Covid's impact. On climate change, Thailand and the OECD will work together to mitigate and adapt to climate change and strengthen sustainable marine governance. Another important objective is managing the digital transformation and working to improve trusted connectivity. In the post Covid world, it is imperative to increase resilient and sustainable supply chains and protect as well as strengthen the global rules-based trading system.

Over the past decades, Thailand has wanted to become an advanced economy and participate in international economic governance and cooperation. However, domestic issues -- political instability and numerous military coups -- have prevented the country from moving in that direction. Despite the odds, Thai policymakers have never given up hope of joining the OECD.

Thailand officially submitted its letter to the OECD to begin the accession process on Feb 8 after some delay. At the first OECD Council meeting in Paris on March 20, the members expressed general support for the country's ambition to become an OECD member. In a letter to Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, Mathias Cormann, Secretary General of OECD, updated him on the council's meeting and discussion around the evidence-based Framework for Consideration of Prospective Members. The meeting also highlighted Thailand's longstanding cooperation with the OECD through the Country Programme since 2018 and the Southeast Asia Regional Programme since 2014. Mr Cormann reiterated the OECD's strategic objective to enhance its engagement and membership with the Indo-Pacific countries.

To further boost Thailand's bid, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara is scheduled to visit the OECD headquarters after Songkran. Foreign Minister Parnpree will have the opportunity to lobby the OECD Council and present Thailand's reasons and motivations for joining the organisation.

Accession is a lengthy process -- it takes five years. During that time, Thailand must be steadfast in maintaining its conducive foreign and economic policies. Costa Rica, the latest country to join the OECD, took exactly five years to complete the accession procedure. Given the reality inside the country, all unexpected diversions must be avoided. Otherwise, the deadline for the country to become an advanced economy by 2037 will remain elusive. Thailand has tried to join other global cooperation platforms. It was among more than three dozen countries wishing to join Brics -- an intergovernmental organisation then made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

Last year, Brics opened the door to more members, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Yet, Thailand must hold off on joining Brics until the OECD accession plan is completed. Last year, former Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai attended the third Brics summit in South Africa as part of the Brics Plus dialogue. To avoid any misunderstanding, future activities related to Brics will be carried out only under the Brics Plus dialogue and in a low-profile manner.

Among the countries joining the Brics outreach programme, Thailand supports the multilateral system, especially advocating for developing countries to play a bigger role. Furthermore, it is also pushing for more developing countries to have access to financial sources to develop competitiveness and fulfil the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Indonesia, an aspiring OECD member, is facing challenges, too. At first, there was no consensus to accept Indonesia's application due to its stand on the Israel-Hamas conflict. After Jakarta's intense lobbying, the council gave the green light -- joining the OECD indicates the membership's preference for liberal values and rules-based principles.

Thailand values its South-South cooperation, which has been going on for decades. Its sufficiency economy and sustainable development strategies have already gained traction in developing countries in Africa, the South Pacific, and Asia-Pacific. Thailand served as the chair of Group 77 in 2016 and its main agenda was to promote the United Nations Sustainable Development goals. Currently, the country is also the coordinator of the programme for the UN and Asean.

Looking forward, Thailand must ensure that its OECD ambition does not undermine its cooperation with friends and allies throughout the world, especially the developing countries with which Thailand has cultivated very close ties.

Kavi Chongkittavorn

A veteran journalist on regional affairs

Kavi Chongkittavorn is a veteran journalist on regional affairs

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