Thailand as a “gateway country” to ASEAN
ASEAN occupies a central role in the Indo-Pacific – and indeed in Canada’s IPS. It is one of the fastest growing economic regions in the world, with a sizeable (700 million people), young market, projected to become the world’s fourth largest economy by 2030.
The IPS’s proposed “Canadian Trade Gateway in Southeast Asia” and the Canada-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement currently in negotiation are important steps toward more extensive regional engagement. But ultimately it is national economies that provide practical entry points for firms to a region. Thailand is well positioned in a number of ways to fill that role. It is the second largest economy in Southeast Asia, with a diversified business sector, regionally leading enterprises, and generally efficient and well-regarded institutions. Thailand is also part of RCEP.
The kingdom also plays a central role in key sub-regional economic cooperation programs such as the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), which includes Cambodia, Southern China, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, and the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle. Complementarities among these economies allow for Thailand to serve as a regional base for subregional cross-border supply chains serving regional and global markets. Thailand also links to South Asia as part of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), that also includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Thailand’s priority multi-sectoral Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) program is intended to strengthen its role as a base for regional business operations. The EEC is targeting for the period 2023–2027 around US$62 billion investment through public-private partnerships (PPP). It is also aiming to attract international investment and collaboration in areas such as advanced and digital infrastructure, medical technology and smart cities.
There is a new generation of young Thai innovative technology entrepreneurs with strong support for international partnerships and regional positioning. They offer ready potential collaborators for foreign enterprises and investors.
Thailand thus provides considerable opportunities for Canada in its domestic economy and as a gateway country to ASEAN and beyond. Building on its position as the second largest trading partner of Canada in ASEAN, a Canada-Thailand economic cooperation agreement would provide a framework for a regional partnership. Its implementation would require focused, well-structured initiatives aimed at building and maintaining longer-term business collaboration for the domestic markets of the two economies and for Thailand as a regional base.
Bangladesh as a “gateway country” to South Asia
Remarkable economic development story
The South Asia focus of the Canadian IPS is understandably on India, given its central role in the Indo-Pacific, and its economy’s size and global importance. It may, however, be useful and productive to take a wider “India-plus” approach to South Asia and positioning enterprises with respect to the region’s deepening connectivity with Southeast Asia.