First Thailand-U.S. webinar hails Thai pandemic response

As part of responding to the coronavirus pandemic, Thailand is making economic changes that appeal to companies looking to relocate their supply chains, U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Michael DeSombre said during the first Thailand Focus Webinar series hosted by the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington D. C. together with the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week.

“Crisis can spur positive change. Companies are re-examining their global investments in supply chains to see if they are safe and secure. And they are looking at Thailand,” said DeSombre.

Among those changes are a shift towards more advanced industries, such as the digital industry, and greater use of automation, artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies.

DeSombre added that the U.S. government and American companies are unanimous in their praise of Thailand’s effective and transparent handling of the pandemic. Thailand’s effective response allowed businesses in the Kingdom to keep their supply chains operating when those in some other countries needed to shut down because of the pandemic.

Thai Ambassador to the U.S. Thani Thongphakdi joined Thailand’s Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Vijavat Isarabhakdi as featured speakers in the first of a series of webinars, designed to create greater understanding and strengthen ties between the two nations.

The panel discussion on COVID-19 included Deputy Director-General of the Department of Disease Control (Ministry of Public Health) Dr. Tanarak Plipat and Executive Director of Macroeconomic Policy Fiscal Policy Office (Ministry of Finance) Pisit Puapan.

“COVID-19 poses a common challenge that no country can overcome alone,” said Vice Minister Vijavat. “This highlights the strong partnership between us as we work together to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic.”

Both Vijavat and DeSombre noted that this year marked the 40th anniversary of cooperation between Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC in Bangkok is the largest center outside the United States. The U.S. Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences (AFRIMS) has also been in Bangkok for half a century working with Thailand on addressing diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and HIV/AIDS.

DeSombre highlighted the high quality of healthcare in Thailand and the U.S. role in promoting health security as reflected in the health assistance for Thailand over the past decades. He said currently about 20 percent of the U.S. Embassy staff in Thailand work on health-related matters, underscoring the importance both sides place on the issue.

However, for two centuries, commercial ties have been the foundation of the Thai-U.S. relation, said DeSombre. He pledged that the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok would work to bring more U.S. companies and their supply chains to the Kingdom. Thailand’s commitment to business, its re-engineering of its economy towards more advanced industries, its transparency and economic freedom are all strong selling points to U.S. investors, he said.

Pisit Puapan of the Fiscal Policy Office told participants that despite an economic contraction this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the fundamentals of the Thai economy are still strong, and growth will return next year.

Also, the government still has ample fiscal space and resources to stimulate economic growth if the rebound is slower than anticipated.

Dr. Tanarak Plipat, meanwhile, highlighted that decades of investment in health security, including free access to healthcare for all Thai citizens and the use of volunteers across the country, have helped Thailand to handle this pandemic effectively. He assured everyone that Thailand’s public health system is prepared if a second wave of the virus strikes.

“The fact that we have so few cases right now does not mean we are not doing anything. We are constantly working to improve our capacity so we can handle the situation even better if we face a second wave,” Dr. Tanarak said.