Cablegate: Thai Business Leaders Tell Das Marciel That the Regional

DE RUEHBK #0379/01 0430922
P 120922Z FEB 10



E.O. 12958: N/A

SUBJECT: Thai Business Leaders Tell DAS Marciel that the Regional
Economic Future is Bright and the U.S. Should be Here

BANGKOK 00000379 001.2 OF 002

1. (SBU) Summary: In a meeting hosted by Ambassador John for
visiting DAS Scot Marciel, Thai business leaders expressed confidence
in ASEAN as a stable business community and stressed the importance
of the Greater Mekong Sub-region in U.S. foreign policy. They are
not concerned about China's growing influence and look forward to
investing in Burma. The U.S. has an opportunity to build on its
historically strong ties with Thailand and invest in the region,
especially in research and development, with renewed dedication
before the 2015 creation of the ASEAN single market. In an earlier
meeting, DAS Marciel briefed the American business community on
continuing difficulties in regional relationships and addressed a
variety of "doing business" concerns. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Comment: Even given that the Thai business leaders were top
executives of their corporations and the U.S. business people were
generally branch office heads of U.S.-based corporations, the
difference in the outlook of the two groups was striking. The Thai
take a long-term view, and are optimistic about the direction of
current trends, while the Americans are concerned with nuts-and-bolts
obstacles to business operations in the here and now. The Thai
business leaders noted that their generation was by and large
educated in the U.S. and would be supportive of doing more to build
ties with us. The Embassy will be working with both Thai and U.S.
business leaders to find ways to promote the National Export
Initiative and increase U.S. business interest in, and U.S. exports
to, Thailand. End Comment.

3. (SBU) On February 10, the Ambassador hosted a small group of
leading Thai business executives for a discussion of regional
economic trends with EAP DAS Scot Marciel. The business leaders
included the president and CEO of the Siam Cement Group, Kan
Trakulhoon, the CEO of Amata Corporation, Vikrom Kromdit, the
president of the Thai Frozen Food Association, Panisuan Jamnarnvej,
and executive vice presidents from the Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group,
Sarasin Viraphol, and Loxley, Vasant Chatikavanij. Siam Cement is
one of the premier construction and infrastructure development
companies in Thailand and the region, and Amata is one of the leading
developers of industrial estates. The vision of food production
conglomerate CP Group is to become "kitchen to the world."

4. (SBU) The business leaders expressed confidence in ASEAN as a
vibrant economic community with great potential for growth in the
future. They noted that the region is more stable than in previous
decades and the member countries more cooperative, an attitude
fostered by recent trade agreements. Although China's influence will
continue to grow, especially with the completion of infrastructure
development projects such as a third bridge over the Mekong River,
they and their ASEAN colleagues see this as a business opportunity,
not as a threat, and they welcome Chinese companies in the Greater
Mekong Sub-region, even though Chinese firms can be difficult
business partners. Mr. Vikrom of Amata foresees Burma as an emerging
market for development projects and Mr. Kan from Siam Cement agreed
and noted that if Amata found success there, they would follow
without reservation.

5. (SBU) Through educational exchanges and business transactions,
the leaders agreed, the United States remains the most influential
country in the region. They stressed that the U.S. should build on
this foundation and regard ASEAN as an important entity in its own
right, not simply a function of U.S. policy toward China or India.
Dr. Sarasin, a former Thai ambassador to the Philippines, hoped that
the U.S. would dedicate itself to economic development in the region
in the same way that the U.S. once built military capacity. DAS
Marciel stressed that the President and Secretary regard the region
with renewed importance. He added that ASEAN nations would benefit
if they could do more promotion of ASEAN as a unified entity and that
they should work to develop educational exchanges and other
interactions to raise the international profile of ASEAN, especially
in the United States.

6. (SBU) Dr. Sarasin opined that the United States would achieve
more success in ASEAN if it packaged trade issues with investment and
noted that this was the strategy that China had adopted. Although he
and his colleagues agreed that China had been successful in the
economic realm, they are skeptical about China's progress in
technical fields. Contrasting China with Thailand, they observed
that Thailand is an ideal place for investment in research and
development because of the technical education of Thai students,
their capacity to speak English well, and the loyalty of Thai workers
to foreign employers. Foreign investors would not find their
employees leaving to develop rival companies as in China.

7. (SBU) Earlier in the day, DAS Marciel addressed concerns in a
meeting with members of the American business community at the
American Chamber of Commerce. DAS Marciel briefed AMCHAM members on
his trip around the region. U.S. firms expressed concerns about weak

BANGKOK 00000379 002.2 OF 002

IPR protection in Thailand and difficulties with Thai Customs and
said that they find it difficult to deal with the ASEAN market as a
whole because the different national bureaucracies do not coordinate.

8. (SBU) The doing business concerns highlighted by the U.S. firms
were not expressed by the Thai leaders, who see ASEAN as a place
which will grow more unified and more influential in the coming years
and see the Greater Mekong Sub-region as among the best areas for
development in the world. They believe that political gaps between
ASEAN countries can be bridged by business deals, and urge the United
States to invest in the region, especially in the years before ASEAN
officially forms a single market in 2015.

9. (U) DAS Marciel did not clear this cable.


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