THAI-SRI LANKA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
 

THAI / ENGLISH

Keynote Address by Prime Minister of Thailand to the
Sri Lankan Business Community

14 August 2003



It is my pleasure indeed to be able to meet with the honourable Ministers of the Sri Lankan cabinet, the President of the Sri Lanka Board of Investment, and leading members of the business community all at the same time.
Dr. Thaksin Shinawatra
Prime Minister of Thailand

As you may be aware, I was looking forward to meeting all of you in May during the Visakh Festival. Unfortunately, due to the severe weather conditions, my trip had to be cancelled at the last minute.

 

Our two nations, Thailand and Sri Lanka, have enjoyed such a long history of cordial friendship. Our history dates back a thousand years.We share similar values, culture, and civilisation. Geographically, we may be kept apart on opposite rims of the Bay of Bengal, but, culturally, history has shown that we have always been so near. The flow of civilisation back and forth between Sri Lanka and Siam, as Thailand was then called, throughout our thousand years of history, is testimony of our deep-rooted relationship and understanding. Many of the words in our respective languages, especially our names, having derived through Buddhism from Pali and Sanskrit, sound similar and have similar meanings in both our languages. When the Thai pronounce the Singhalese names, because of the linguistic similarity, it sounds so much like calling the names of our own friends. And I trust the vice versa may be true in the case of our Sri Lankan friends pronouncing Thai names. One distinct similar feature of our languages, which are rooted from Pali-Sanskrit, is that the words are often very long with many syllables, and can be frightening to many of our Western friends who have to be stammering to say them right.

I can proudly say that the peoples of our two nations always feel the sense of friendship and amity shared between us. Presently, with a lot more platforms and cooperation fora for both our nations to work even more closely with each other, we must find additional ways to strengthen our collaboration. With a historical sense of friendship, Thailand was proud to have been chosen as the venue for the Sri Lankan peace talks. We were most eager to be of assistance to contribute towards peace, harmony and prosperity in Sri Lanka. I personally instructed all the authorities concerned to render every possible means to facilitate and accommodate the logistic arrangements of the peace talks when held in Thailand. We wish you well in your endeavours and stand ready to be of help any time whenever required.

Our economic cooperation within the framework of BIMST-EC, namely between Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand, is proving very beneficial. The Ministerial meeting, held here last December, has paved the way to many beneficial areas of cooperation between the five countries. I look forward to the BIMST-EC Summit in Thailand early next year with a high degree of anticipated accomplishment. With the political will of the five leaders, our regional cooperation will undoubtedly be much further strengthened.

Most recently, last June in Chiang Mai, Thailand, at the Second Ministerial Meeting of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue, or ACD, we were pleased to be able to welcome Sri Lanka to join us as one of the four new members of the ACD. The 22 members of the ACD, Sri Lanka included, are ranging from the westernmost of Asia, or what the west call “the Middle East”, such as Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman; South Asia, such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka; Central Asia, such as Kazakhstan; East Asia, such as China, Japan and South Korea, and the 10 members of ASEAN representing Southeast Asia. Thailand took the initiative on the idea of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue, which was inaugurated in Cha-Am, Thailand, in June 2002, with 18 members. We did so out of the conviction that in a world where each continent has devised an instrument to pool its respective potential for the well-being and prosperity of the people, Asia could not afford to do without one. While there are the European Union, the African Union, the NAFTA, and the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas or FTAA, we in Asia lacked a continent-wide cooperation to serve the interests of our region. The ACD will serve to bridge that missing link.

 

The ACD is intended to be an open, evolving, non-institutionalised, inclusive and constructive process. Its strength is based on the rich diversity of the countries in Asia. Its progress and its achievements are based on the comfort level of all the members. So far, there are 17 ACD cooperation projects, such as energy security, poverty alleviation, agriculture, SMEs cooperation, financial cooperation, tourism, human resource development, and many more for the ACD members to select to participate. In welcoming Sri Lanka as a new member of the ACD, I wish to urge you to consider joining as many of the 17 existing projects or even to initiate a new project that would be mutually beneficial to Sri Lanka and other ACD members. Project participation is on a voluntary basis. By so doing, we can avoid conflict while creating strength out of the rich diversity of our Asian nations.

The Second ACD Ministerial Meeting last June also agreed to adopt the Chiang Mai Declaration on the Asian Bond Market Development. The Declaration provided political support to the Asian Bond Fund and the Asian Bond Market. The philosophy behind the Asian Bond is basically that of empowering the less well-off. Instead of depositing our hard-earned reserves in the West and let them be used to create more wealth for the West, it is high time that we in Asia had an instrument to allow our own reserves to create our own wealth in Asia. The Asian Bond will enable the surplus capital from one Asian country to create wealth in another. With the establishment of the Asian Bond Fund by the 11 Central Banks in Asia and the Pacific on 2nd June 2003, the initial 1-billion-U.S.-dollar Asian Bond Fund will serve as the demand side of the Asian Bond market. As the ACD adopted the Chiang Mai Declaration supporting this initial Asian Bond Fund, the Indian Government also announced during the Second ACD Ministerial Meeting its readiness to contribute another one billion U.S. dollars, either toward the enlargement of the initial Asian Bond Fund or to set up the Asian Bond Fund, Number 2. The Asian Bond and the Chiang Mai Declaration will help create stable financial structures capable of stimulating both Asian and global economic development. This financial instrument will ensure that Asia achieves the level of economic growth and employment that it is capable of attaining and intends to attain.

So, I do hope that Sri Lanka’s participation in the ACD will bring many benefits to the economic growth and development of the country.

As for our bilateral cooperation, at this very same moment, the Thai Foreign Minister and his Sri Lankan counterpart are also meeting elsewhere in this hotel for the Thailand-Sri Lanka Joint Commission. I am looking forward to hearing the fruitful outcomes of this Joint Commission.

Honourable Ministers,

President of the BOI,

Distinguished Guests,

With such backgrounds, I am sure you will agree with me that there can be a lot for our two countries to accomplish more than just maintaining our long friendship. Through trade and business, I foresee a massive potential that could lead to mutual benefits between our two countries, especially between the private sectors. On our part, I am confident to say that we are making a full recovery from the financial crisis of 1997. We are currently enjoying a stable currency, with 5.3 percent economic growth last year and expecting 6 percent growth this year despite the Iraq war and SARS. We were able to record 19 percent export growth for the first 2 quarters of this year, and managed to pay back all of our IMF loans, as a consequence of the 1997 crisis, on 31st July this year -- 2 years ahead of schedule. All these indicators are ample proof that the “Dual Track Policy” for economic recovery of the Thai Government has been a success. Through this policy, I have started to lay down solid foundations for both the grassroots economy and the traditional export-led economy of Thailand. Now that both sectors of our economy are getting stronger, Thailand is back on track to offer partnership with our friends toward mutual interests and benefits.

I am very pleased that my meeting with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe earlier this afternoon resulted in agreement on a number of issues. We have set a target of 1 billion U.S. dollars in our two-way trade within the next 5 years. We have agreed on export credits of 20 million U.S. dollars to facilitate Sri Lanka in importing essential Thai products. Furthermore, we are looking into the establishment of a joint investment fund to finance joint venture projects between our private sectors.

In addition, tourism can also be another important area of cooperation. With so much in common, both culturally and historically, rich with both natural beauty and heritage, placed just opposite each other on the same sea, and being close enough to each other, Thailand and Sri Lanka could work out many joint tourist promotion endeavours. More particularly, Sri Lanka and our famous island of Phuket, with their similar geographical configuration, though different in size and while lying almost directly opposite each other, can both be dubbed the Twin Pearls of the Bay of Bengal and serve as twin destinations. There are many exciting possibilities in such a project.

Honourable Ministers,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Between our two countries, we have the long history. We have the culture. We have the friendship. We have the international cooperation framework. We have the government support. And we have you -- the far-sighted business community of both countries -- to contribute for the prosperous trade and economy of our respective nations. Let us do it together.

Thank you very much.

 
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