Thailand has said Bangladesh's economy would be more resilient provided it diversifies its sources of income rather than relying heavily on readymade industry.

The Southeast Asian nation is also keen on promoting economic cooperation with Bangladesh through increased connectivity and bilateral trade, said the country's ambassador in Dhaka.

"Bangladesh should also consider adding more value to its RMG products by building capacity on design, and research and development to enable local brands to compete in the global market," Thai Ambassador to Bangladesh Makawadee Sumitmor told UNB in an interview this week.

She noted that both countries have set the goal to increase the bilateral trade volume to US$ 2 billion.

During the past five decades Bangladesh has progressively built the nation with growing per capita income, said the ambassador.

Bangladesh, she said, will graduate from LDC status in a few years enjoying continued GDP growth even during the pandemic.

"The success of Bangladesh in the RMG sector is impressive and the country could rightfully be called "Wardrobe of the World." This is a remarkable job that you have proven to the world," she said.

Responding to a question, Ambassador Sumitmor said the relevant authority of Bangladesh is conducting a feasibility study on the free trade agreement with Thailand.

If the agreement could be signed, it would reduce tariff barriers and increase trade flows, she said, adding that Thailand has approved Duty Free Quota Free (DFQF) scheme to LDCs, which means Bangladesh can export 7,187 agricultural and industrial products to Thailand without tariff and quota.

The Thai envoy said one way to boost bilateral trade between Bangladesh and Thailand is to establish a direct sea transport route.

"We signed a MoU between Chittagong Port and Ranong Port last December to establish direct coastal shipping service," she said.

Previously, shipments have to transit through Singapore or Sri Lanka, which would take 12-15 days.

However, the two countries are trying to set up a direct coastal shipping route between Ranong Port and Chittagong Port to reduce time and cost in accordance with the MoU between the two ports.

The relevant authorities are discussing details to realize this shipping service that will shorten the transport time to three days.

The ambassador said Thailand has a project to connect Ranong Port on the Andaman coast to Chumphon Port in the Gulf of Thailand through a land bridge.

In the long term, she said, Bangladesh will have an alternative route to export its products to countries in the Pacific Ocean that is cost-effective in addition to the Malacca Strait.

Thailand's Policy towards Bangladesh

From the beginning, the envoy said, Thailand's policy towards Bangladesh has always been to promote friendship and cooperation.

In the past five decades, she said, the two countries have fostered cooperation in many areas such as trade, investment and connectivity.

Bangladesh is a next door neighbour of ASEAN and can serve as the gateway between Southeast Asia and South Asia, said Ambassador Sumitmor.

At the same time, she said, Thailand will intensify cooperation with Bangladesh in regional and multilateral frameworks like BIMSTEC, IORA and ACD to create growth and development.

BIMSTEC will be particularly important because Thailand is the new Chair of BIMSTEC from April 2022 until the next summit.

Priorities amid Covid Recovery

The ambassador described the relations with Bangladesh as warm and cordial with close interactions on many sectors but she thought there is still ample room to strengthen the ties further.

She said the Covid-19 has affected nearly every aspect in their life including the pace of cooperation.

Fortunately, the envoy said, normal life and business as usual are gradually resuming.

This started with the 2nd Thailand-Bangladesh Bilateral Consultations in Bangkok that was co-chaired by the Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Thailand and the Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh.

"At the same time, I intend to strengthen people-to-people contact since it is the foundation of our relations. That is why the celebration of the golden jubilee of our relations is focused on events to enable Thais and Bangladeshis to know each other better," she said.

Green Partnership

Ambassador Sumitmor said Bangladesh and Thailand share the same challenge on the effects from climate change.

Bangkok is only 2 metres above sea level, similar to many areas in Bangladesh. "I appreciate the endeavour of Bangladesh to address this problem such as by cancelling many coal-fired electricity plants in consideration of the effects on global warming," she said.

"In the post-Covid world, I believe more countries will give priority to sustainability and resilience from disruptions like pandemic and climate change," said the ambassador.

Thailand has adopted the Bio-Circular-Green Economy or BCG Model as the underlying concept for national development.

"We plan to be more innovation-driven and go greener to make the Thai economy more value-based and sustainable," she said.

This corresponds to Bangladesh's policy to reduce the impacts from climate change. "So I think both sides can forge a "green partnership" to exchange best practices and organize capacity building activities."

Rohingya Repatriation

Ambassador Sumitmor said Thailand will give continued support for ASEAN to play a visible and enhanced role in providing humanitarian assistance, facilitating the repatriation of displaced persons and promoting sustainable development in Rakhine State.

"We would like to see a sustainable solution to the problem and we are ready to continue our partnership with all parties concerned," she said.

Thailand has been providing humanitarian assistance to Rohingya displaced persons since 2017.

"We contributed financial assistance through several UN agencies such as UNHCR, WFP and WHO to provide basic needs," she said, adding that this year, they are collaborating with UNICEF to renovate a resource centre in one of the camps in Cox's Bazar.

Tourism Potential

The ambassador said Thailand is a favourite destination for Bangladeshi travellers. In 2019, about 140,000 Bangladeshis visited Thailand for tourism including 4,300 going for medical treatment.

"They generated about 6.7 billion baht to the Thai economy," said the envoy, mentioning that the Tourism Authority of Thailand is working "actively to re-engage" with travellers in Bangladesh. "They even have a newsletter and Instagram in Bangla."

She said Bangladeshi people have a very friendly attitude about Thailand and Thai people, which makes the work of the Embassy much easier. "They are the second largest market in South Asia."

In sharp contrast, the envoy said, only 4,800 Thais visited Bangladesh in 2019, mostly for work purposes.

"I think we should try to encourage more Thai tourists to think of Bangladesh as another holiday destination not far from home," she said.

There is potential and interest, which will eventually help strengthen people-to-people contact, said Ambassador Sumitmor.

"We could begin with the promotion of Buddhist historical sites in Bangladesh as part of the Buddhist circuit that is connected with India, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka to attract more pilgrims and travellers," she said.

She suggested Bangladesh develops facilities for tourists such as rest areas along the highways and accommodations with reasonable prices to attract more tourists.

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