TBA Chairwoman Saranya Skontanarak says that over the two decades that the association has functioned in Vietnam, it has become much more than a gathering club as Vietnam's growth is reflected in the growing Thai business community. She said TBA is a bridge that connects people and businesses with each other and with authorities, facilitating the passing of knowledge and experience.
What would you say are the major steps taken by TBA in the last 20 years to bring more Thai companies to Vietnam and to link the businesses of both countries?
We participate in trade and investment programs with other organizations like the VCCI and other state agencies, aiming to facilitate the activities of the Thai private sector in Vietnam. We also cooperate with entities like the Thai Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Thai Industries who reach out to us for help with their Vietnam engagements.
TBA works alongside government agencies doing their part to promote business between the two countries, sharing our experiences, tips and lessons learned to help companies overcome hurdles in their trade and investment activities. We also advise companies and individuals on maintaining sound operations in Vietnam, on following local laws and regulations, avoiding fines and so on.
What would you say are the sectors and areas in Vietnam with the highest potential and interest for Thai businesses?
Vietnam's rapid growth and signing of many FTAs will be key for many investment decisions made by many countries, not just Thailand. We need to look at the strengths between us, Vietnam and Thailand, and see how we can complement each other.
Thailand has expertise in consumer goods production and food processing. Vietnam has abundant resources and government export promotion. So, agribusiness is one of the perfect matches, as well as the manufacturing of consumer goods.
Vietnam's urbanization is also happening at a rapid pace, so construction, building materials and interiors are other areas where Thailand has expertise in production, sales, and services.
The healthcare business is also an area of interest, especially after Covid-19. People will pay more attention to their health and the sector will need more investment. A related business is beauty and wellness. Thai products, herbs and services are internationally recognized.
Another area that Thai businesses have important expertise in is renewable energy. As Vietnam is promoting green business as the new norm, Thai investors are attracted. More and more investment will come in for infrastructure development depending on how the Vietnamese government opens this area for foreign investors including Thais.
What are the comparative pros and cons for Vietnam in attracting Thai investment under the auspices of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC)?
Vietnam has certain advantages and disadvantages when compared with other ASEAN members. Geographically, Vietnam has a strategic location that is convenient for transportation, and the distance between Vietnam and Thailand has also encouraged trading between the two countries at reasonable costs on land and sea.
Vietnam's increasing GDP, availability of labor and natural resources creates opportunities for Thai investors. And besides the policy to privatize the SOEs, Vietnam has also allowed foreigners to hold majority shares in listed companies. However, there are still some monopoly sectors in the market when compared with other ASEAN countries that Thailand sees potentials in.
I think Vietnam still lacks good roads and transportation. This needs to be improved in order to sustain development and support Vietnam's growth.
So you think more Thai firms are likely to invest and do business in Vietnam in the coming years?
Definitely. All the big conglomerates are possibly here already. There are still other mid-size firms and downstream industries that direct investment flows to Vietnam.
Behaviors and preferences of consumers differ between markets. Hence, accurate market studies are necessary for Thai investors in order to devise rational business strategies before coming to Vietnam. The enterprises must also comply with required law and regulations in their operation in Vietnam and they should properly obtain their business licenses, visas and work permits.
In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, what has TBA done to help Thai firms in the country deal with its impacts and prepare to develop after the pandemic?
It cannot be denied that the pandemic has had adverse impacts on the economy and the society. Our members are involved in a variety of businesses including manufacturing, trading, and services. They have been impacted differently. While the social distancing campaigns were being implementing in Vietnam and Thailand, the TBA was still able to support Thai business via social media channels. The Royal Thai Consulate-General and TBA have arranged webinars for the Thai community, providing useful information relating to the visas and immigrants, traveling back to Thailand, and so on.
We also joined with other associations and organizations for webinars on relevant topics so that businesses can prepare themselves for the aftermath of the pandemic. Besides, TBA provided timely updates and relevant legal information to the members. We also organized surveys on Covid-19 impacts to provide our members with an overview of the pandemic.
What are TBA's plans for the future after being in Vietnam for more than two decades?
We plan to increase our membership. There are many Thai companies in Vietnam who are not yet members of the TBA and we plan to expand our reach to them in northern and central Vietnam.
TBA has strengthened its relationship with other chambers, allowing our members to expand their networking to support their businesses. Next, we would like to strengthen our relationship with government agencies and hope to improve Thai businesses' contributions to Vietnam's growth.
I hope that TBA can help expand the Thai experiences to a wider audience in Vietnam through cultural events that can also lead to business partnerships.
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