The British Chamber of Commerce Thailand (BCCT) has a long history of engagement with Eastern Seaboard businesses. Way back in 1998 Board Director (now Honorary Adviser and past Chairman) Graham MacDonald and Executive Director Greg Watkins established an Eastern Seaboard Group, the first foreign chamber in Thailand to do so.
This was acknowledgement that there was then, and is now, huge business activity outside Bangkok – about 10% of BCCT’s membership is Eastern Seaboard-based. Graham states “The first group was very multi-national with an American, Australian, New Zealander, Thai and me, a Scot! We swiftly started organizing regular networking events and site visits. These continue today.” Over the years other chambers have started to organize events such that there is now a monthly Multi-Chambers Business Networking Evening preceded by a business briefing.
During the Covid-19 crisis BCCT reached out to Eastern Seaboard businesses to listen to concerns and issues and to act on these where possible. Past BCCT Board Director Carl Sellick of Lucy Thailand called a meeting of BCCT Eastern Seaboard manufacturing members with the Manufacturing Focus Group and Eastern Seaboard Directors’ Club at the Royal Varuna Yacht Club on 12th June.
Discussions initially centered on concerns over the Thai Labour Law and how it could be applied. More specifically, what liabilities businesses have going forward in the event that even with discussions and “mutual agreements” made with employees, what may happen in reality and whether businesses are possibly open to some type of legal action through the Labour Courts. This may have potential to cause problems in the future.
There was also some discussion focused on delays for companies in receiving VAT refunds and the severe impact that this has on business cash-flow. A further issue is seemingly arbitrary interpretation of Harmonized Codes for goods that can cause major variances in import duties to be paid. There appears to be no real ASEAN consensus on this matter either.
The third major issue expressed by representatives at the meeting concerned the need for clarity in terms of a timeline for allowing much-needed business experts and technicians into Thailand – with or without quarantine. Business deals need to be signed off, technical support is required to service important contracts.
Carl noted “The meeting was very valuable. I certainly learned a bit more about what is going on at the coal-face and for sure, all had stories to tell. We agreed to pick up the three key issues to be taken up by BCCT particularly with other foreign chambers and Ambassadors, and thereafter at senior Thai Government level.”
BCCT followed the June meeting with a Zoom Meeting for Eastern Seaboard members in all sectors on Wednesday 8th July. BCCT Chairman Andrew McBean joined Greg Watkins in hosting the meeting. Greg opened the meeting with some background on FCA. It is an alliance created by the founding members, American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand (AMCHAM), Australian-Thai Chamber of Commerce (AustCham), British Chamber of Commerce Thailand (BCCT) and German-Thai Chamber of Commerce (GTCC), representing together more than 2,000 companies and employing approximately 1 million Thai employees.
Working closely with Thai Government Ministries, Industry Bodies and Associations, and the Thai and foreign business community, the FCA aims to develop foreign investment and trade in Thailand for the benefit of the country as well as all FCA Chambers’ member companies and their employees. FCA provides a diverse yet unified voice on matters of common values and mutual interest for its members.
On 30th June the US Ambassador hosted an FCA meeting with the Australian, British and German Ambassadors, and the Chairs/Presidents and Executive Directors of the four FCA chambers. At the meeting the US Embassy agreed to circulate a document entitled “Suggested Measures to Expand U.S. Investment and Attract U.S. Supply Chains to Thailand” with a view to FCA agreeing key issues of mutual interest and priority in order to join with the Ambassadors and advocate jointly on members’ behalf. Andrew commented “The meeting was an opportunity to harness the energy of the four chambers with their respective Ambassadors and develop some aspirational activity in support of member and national interests”.
Andrew added “Under the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) project’s S-Curve sector priorities, and driven by Thailand 4.0, there are many opportunities in next-generation digital initiatives such as AI, Robotics, Machine Learning and government digital transformation”. Some projects will be developed through government promotion and collaboration with Thai universities. Smart cities (outside Bangkok), digital parks, next generation automotive, agri-technology, biotechnology, biofuels, intelligent electronics, and technical and vocational education are all key digital-driven sectors under the EEC.
The BCCT EEC Group is now headed by Board Director Carl Smith of Triumph Motorcycles. The key objectives remain: to assist BCCT members in the promotion of trade, industry, investment and economic relations between the UK and Thailand, focused on the Eastern Seaboard/EEC area; to provide advice, ideas and business leads for members in the Eastern Seaboard/EEC area; to provide a forum for members to consult one another; to compile news, information and statistics on the EEC project and on legal and financial matters of importance to a wide range of members.
BCCT is keen to develop activities in-between the large monthly business networking events. In 2020 these with include: re-visit to U-Ta-Pao airport (following up on the December 2019 visit), visit to Laem Chabang port, and skills development workshops focused on middle management, delivered in English or Thai by BCCT member training companies. Carl noted “The EEC Group is keen to balance promotion of the new initiatives arising from the EEC project with both advocacy and business development support for businesses already operating in the Eastern Seaboard”.
BCCT events returned to the Eastern Seaboard on 10th July with the fifth monthly panel discussion on the ‘Effects of the Coronavirus on Businesses in Thailand’. This was BCCT’s third ‘physical’ event since the Covid-19 outbreak. Greg noted “Throughout the worst of the crisis and during the slow recovery we have been determined to reach out at the earliest opportunity and engage with businesses in the Eastern Seaboard”. More than 40 members and guests joined the event with Ian Betts, Country Manager of Hill Risk Consulting (Thailand), Martin Hurley, General Manager of Lancaster Bangkok and BCCT Board Director, and Bryan Bowman, Plant Director of Lucy Electric (Thailand) as guest panelists.
BCCT would like to thank the Pattaya Mail team for its support and advice since 1998 and look forward to continuing to work together in the future.