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PM Address To Thai Prime Minister In Wellington

Rt Hon Helen Clark Prime Minister - Address at Official State Luncheon His Excellency Dr Thaksin Shinawatra Prime Minister of Thailand

Banquet Hall Parliament

1.30 pm - Wednesday 7 July 2004

It is a great pleasure to welcome Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his large delegation of Ministers to Wellington today. Both the size and the high level of this delegation indicate to us Thailand’s interest in building even closer relations with New Zealand. New Zealand and Thailand have a solid history of friendship and co-operation, but, even so, there is much more we could do together. That has been the focus of the discussions between our two sets of Ministers last evening and this morning.

Informal diplomatic contact between New Zealand and Thailand goes back to 1919 when we were both founder members of the League of Nations and signatories to the Treaty of Versailles. We were also both early members of the United Nations, with Thailand joining a year after New Zealand, in 1946. For as long as there has been something resembling a multilateral system, New Zealand and Thailand have both been committed to it.

Our more formal, bilateral relationship, did not start to blossom until after the end of the Second World War. Then the emergence of new nation states in the region, and the instability associated with the Cold War, were reasons for New Zealand to forge new links with the nations of Asia. Over the past half century, we have interacted a great deal with Thailand and other South-East Asian nations.

In 1954, New Zealand joined Thailand and other regional partners as a founding member of SEATO. In that same year Thailand joined the Colombo Plan, and so we began a long and fruitful education relationship. New Zealand established its embassy in Bangkok in 1956. We signed up as an ASEAN Dialogue Partner in 1975. In 1989, New Zealand and Thailand became founding members of APEC, and in 1994 we became ASEAN Regional Forum partners. We are also both members of the Cairns Group of agricultural exporters, lobbying for a better deal through the WTO trade rounds.

Now I believe the future holds some encouraging possibilities for New Zealand’s relations with Asia in general, and Thailand in particular. Later this year, the first ever ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Summit will be held in Vientiane. I thank Prime Minister Thaksin and his government for their solid support of this initiative. In our own near region of the South Pacific, New Zealand welcomes and supports Thailand becoming a Pacific Islands Forum dialogue partner.

Over the years New Zealand and Thailand have been building stronger trade and people to people links.

Last year our two-way merchandise trading relationship was worth around NZD $900 million. That represents not only a lot of commercial transactions but also many personal and corporate relationships. Thailand with its 64 million strong population was our eighteenth largest export market in 2003, but it has the potential to be even more significant to us.

Last year nearly 19,000 tourists from Thailand visited New Zealand, and around 70,000 New Zealand tourists visit Thailand every year. As one of those visitors who first set foot in Thailand 28 years ago, I know the beauty of Thailand’s historic heritage, including its temples, the richness of its culture, the tranquillity of its rural landscape, and the charm of Bangkok’s canals. These features, and many more, will continue to draw our people to Thailand.

A Thai community is now well established within New Zealand, with community events in Auckland attracting several thousand people. This year a large celebration of the Thai water festival was held in my own electorate, and I was pleased to attend.

Our education relationship today builds on the strong foundations laid by the Colombo Plan. That has given New Zealand strong networks of Thai alumni. With more than 4,000 Thai students now in New Zealand each year, the number of Thais who know us well is increasing rapidly.

Education was long central to New Zealand’s development assistance programme in Thailand. The Mekong Institute has been a flagship for the programme with over 1,400 officials from Mekong countries having studied everything from project management to good governance within its walls.

While the Institute was originally a NZ/Thai bilateral project, it is now a regional institution, owned by Greater Mekong Sub-region states. This in itself reflects a fundamental change in our development relationship with Thailand. Thailand has gone from being a recipient of bilateral assistance, to being a development partner, to now itself assisting other less-developed regional countries through projects like the Institute.

Thailand today is an outward looking, democratic nation, with a growing economy and rising living standards. It is timely for New Zealand and Thailand to be updating our relationship further, and completing the transition from being development assistance partners to being economic and trade partners. That is the thinking behind New Zealand’s decision to go down the track of negotiations for a free trade agreement with Thailand.

The announcement to proceed was made after Prime Minister Thaksin and I met in Bangkok last October, where Thailand chaired a very successful APEC Leaders’ Summit.

A study on our proposed FTA was completed in April and identified the mutual benefits of such an agreement. There would be direct benefits through increased trade in goods and services, and indirect benefits through providing opportunities for more collaboration, using our combined expertise, ideas, technology, and resource bases to compete more effectively in overseas markets.

A closer economic relationship will also act as a spur for co-operation in other areas. For example, we have already begun negotiations on a working holiday scheme for young people, and there is scope for more collaboration in education and science and technology. We hope too for more cultural exchanges.

Prime Minister, Thaksin, we know of your drive and personal commitment to accelerate the growth and development of your country. New Zealand as a long standing friend seeks new partnerships with Thailand on this next stage of its journey. Both our countries are dynamic, confident, and outward looking. Building on close to half a century of friendly relations, we look forward to the next half century and more of very close relations. You have signalled your personal interest in taking our partnership forward by bringing this very important Ministerial delegation to Wellington this week. We look forward to continuing to work with you.

Can I now propose a toast to His Majesty, King Bhumipol Adulyadej.

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