Kiat Sittheeamorn, President of Thailand Trade Representative, talks with The SGT Daily on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on East Asia on how Vietnam and Thailand can partner in agriculture, an area the two countries have strong advantages. Excerpts:
The SGT Daily: Our Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said Vietnam as the second largest rice exporter is contributing to international food security stability. How could you share this point when Thailand is now recognized as the leader in rice export?
- Kiat Sittheeamorn: Agriculture is the strength of ASEAN, and we continue to produce food to feed the world. There’s projection that in 2015, the world’s population will be nine billion from 6.6 billion on Tuesday. That’s a significant increase. The productivity increase in agriculture cannot match the demand. So, it’s obvious that we do not see Vietnam as our competitor but as a partner in agriculture because considering the increasing demand, there’s no way that the output will be matched. So, those food exporting countries will really benefit if they do it right, if they implement right policies.
It is said that companies of Thailand and Vietnam are actually competing for orders from the world. Does this really exist?
- Are they really competing? That’s my question. In some market, this is maybe and yes in some cases. The output comes to different markets, and so why do we have to compete? We do not really have to compete head-on if we do it right. Yes, there are certain sectors that competition exists for the market, and we will continue to compete with some countries in some sectors. But, there are so many complementarities. If you look at rubber on Tuesday as it is a good example what has happened. In the old days, five or six years ago, every one competed head-on. on Tuesday, every one enjoys the rising price of rubber because demand starts to exceed supply, and that will happen with rice in a few years’ time. So, I think all countries will focus on making products better, and we will focus on that. At the end of the day, every one is the winner.
And competition will turn fierce in tough times and companies have to compete?
- Competition is fine and is not a problem. We set very specific markets, so I do not think we compete head-on, all the time and all the location. We might be competing sometimes, but that’s normal. In what areas of agriculture has Thailand cooperated with Vietnam? There are a lot of programs. In ASEAN, we have a food security program to ensure sufficient stock for supply for the region, and Thailand plays a role with ASEAN plus 3. This is a valid example of cooperation in the region.
Let us talk about another topic. How is regional integration going over the past years? Is it moving slower than agenda or not?
- Five years ago, maybe it was slow. But, last year with all the necessary agreements we had signed, the rest of the world thinks that we are moving very fast. Everyone else is busy trying to deal with the economic crisis and some countries continue to experience some difficulties in Europe, such as Greece, Portugal and Spain. There are some difficulties at this point in the United States with the impact of the sub-prime loans crisis. It takes time for these regions to recuperate. In the meantime, ASEAN having been through the 1997 crisis is more prudent in our lending and financial institutions are prudent with our economic policies of the all governments. As a result, we are less affected by the global troubles so we can move forward a little bit faster than what has been accomplished in the past couples of years. Therefore, I think we are forming one of the largest blocs ever in our history.
ASEAN nations aim to form one ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015. What stage is this goal now?
- So, 2015 is the scheduled year for the ASEAN Economic Community. In order to achieve that we must be sure that all forms of connectivity are completed. That means we have to sign about 140 agreements and some 130 measures, something like that. What we have done is that we have established an AEC (ASEAN Economic Community) scorecard, which means every time leaders meet they will know exactly all the agreements and measures that have been accomplished and by what country. So, this will put a lot of pressure on all the countries to move forward quickly. As of on Tuesday, I think we have 70% completed, in both agreements and measures. We have about 30% left and four years left. In order to accomplish this, there are difficult issues, more difficult than the first 70%, but I think we have time, with the political will of all leaders and also the people, countries in this region should get that.
So, do you strongly believe the AEC is achievable in 2015?
- I think, the target is very achievable. It is achievable. on Tuesday 2010, we have already finished 70% and we have four more years. You see, leaders meet so often at so many forums, so many events that bring ASEAN leaders together, either in regional or international forums. Meeting so often helps so much in moving all the issues which is very important for ASEAN to move forward. They have better understanding of the world challenges and the need for deeper integration. People are also aware of what needs to be done to support their governments on their right track.
Reported by Mong Binh