Thailand country brief


The Kingdom of Thailand is at the centre of the Indochina peninsula in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and Laos to the north, Cambodia to the east, and Malaysia to the south. Thailand borders the Gulf of Thailand to the south and east, and the Andaman Sea to the west. The capital of Thailand is Bangkok. Formerly known as Siam, the kingdom was renamed ‘Thailand’ in 1939.

Thailand’s population is approximately 66.7 million (2013 est.). The majority of the population are ethnic Thais (96 per cent), with Burmese and others making up the remaining four per cent; 93 per cent of the population are Buddhist.

Political overview

System of Government

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. The Prime Minister is the head of government, and the head of state is a hereditary monarch. Reigning since 1946, King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the world’s longest-serving current head of state and the country’s longest-reigning monarch.

Recent Political Developments in Thailand

On 22 May 2014, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, Thailand’s Army Chief, launched a military coup in Thailand and established the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). On 21 August, Prayut was nominated Prime Minister in a unanimous resolution of the new National Legislative Assembly. On 31 August, Prime Minister Prayut’s new cabinet was formally announced.

The interim government has announced a road map leading to an election in 2015.

Pursuant to this roadmap, in October 2014, the NCPO appointed the 250 member National Reform Council (NRC). The NRC will propose reforms affecting politics, local government, the economy, and media.

A Constitution Drafting Committee will propose a new constitution for the NRC’s approval.

Foreign Policy

Thailand was one of ASEAN’s five original members (founded in 1967). It has developed increasingly close ties with other ASEAN members and is committed to the Association’s centrality in regional architecture. Thailand is the second biggest economy in ASEAN and is actively promoting integration efforts under the ASEAN Economic Community. From 2008 to 2012, Surin Pitsuwan, a Thai national, served as ASEAN Secretary-General. Thailand most recently chaired ASEAN in 2009. Thailand is a member of other ASEAN-centred regional forums, including the East Asia Summit and ASEAN Regional Forum.

Thailand served as APEC host in 2003, is a member of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), and Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), and is participating in other regional organisations including the Organisation of American States and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe where it enjoys observer and partner status respectively.

Thailand is actively involved in the UN. Thailand served as a member of the UN Human Rights Council from 2010-13, including as President of the Council. A Thai national also served as Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, from 2005 to 2013. Thailand is also seeking a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2017-18, which Australia is supporting. Thailand joined the Non-Aligned Movement in 1993.

Bilateral relations

Australia and Thailand have longstanding and deep connections. We cooperate in a broad range of areas of mutual interest, including trade and investment, law enforcement, counter-terrorism, education, security, migration and tourism. The bilateral relationship is supported by mutual membership of international and regional organisations.

The 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and Thailand was celebrated in 2012. The occasion was marked by the visits of former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to Australia from 26 to 29 May, and by His Majesty the King’s granddaughter, Princess Bajarakitiyabha, from 15 to 19 August.

Reflecting the extensive cooperation between Australia and Thailand, a treaty-level Agreement on Bilateral Cooperation entered into force on 27 July 2005. It provides a framework for future bilateral cooperation in non-trade areas, including security and law enforcement, environment and heritage, science and technology, telecommunications, civil aviation, public administration, energy, immigration, education, culture and social development. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on 'Work and Holiday' visas allows nationals of both countries to undertake 12-month working holidays in the other country.

People to people links

Our strong bilateral relations are reflected in extensive people-to-people links. Thailand attracts large numbers of Australians for tourism and business – over 900,000 Australians visit Thailand each year. More than 45,000 Thais live in Australia (2011 Census).

Australia continues to be a leading destination for Thai students, with more than 21,600 Thais studying in Australia in 2013. From 2015, Thailand will host Australian New Colombo Plan scholars.

Australia has enjoyed a close relationship with the Thai Royal Family. His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his wife Queen Sirikit visited Australia in 1962 and the Thai Crown Prince, His Royal Highness Maha Vajiralongkorn, studied at secondary school and military college in Australia, subsequently completing training with the Australian Army's Special Air Service Regiment in Perth.

Security and Counter-terrorism Cooperation

Regional stability is a key area of mutual interest. Thailand was one of the first countries with which Australia concluded a bilateral MOU on Counter-Terrorism, in October 2002. This was followed by MOUs on police cooperation (June 2003), mutual assistance in customs matters (December 2003), and money-laundering (June 2004), and a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (July 2006). We continue to undertake regular high-level dialogues on regional security. Thailand is also a key player with Australia in efforts to strengthen regional cooperation against people smuggling and trafficking, and has extradited accused people smugglers to stand trial in Australia in recent years. Thailand also hosts the Regional Support Office for the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime. The Office supports and strengthens practical cooperation on refugee protection and international migration.

Development Assistance

In November 2003, the Royal Thai Government announced that Thailand would move from being an aid recipient to being an aid donor. A number of regional Australian aid programs in human trafficking, labour rights, health, disaster management and economic integration continue to include Thailand. Australia also provides limited support to Thailand as part of efforts to strengthen the capacity of regional organisations such as ASEAN and APEC.

Economic overview

Thailand recovered well from the global financial crisis with rapid implementation of a fiscal stimulus package and monetary easing, but its economy suffered as a result of severe floods in the second half of 2011. GDP growth fell from 7.8 per cent in 2010 to 0.1 per cent in 2011. On the back of global economic recovery and higher domestic consumption, Thailand’s GDP grew 6.5 per cent in 2012, but weaker domestic demand and a contraction in investment saw growth drop to 2.9 per cent in 2013. Forecast growth for 2014 is 1.5 per cent, due mainly to cautious private consumption stemming from high household debt, weak merchandise exports, and the sluggish recovery of the tourism sector following seven months of prolonged political protests in 2013-14. Headline inflation for 2013 was 2.2 per cent and projected to be 2.1 per cent in 2014.

In October 2014, the Thai government announced an economic reform agenda to make Thailand more attractive as a regional trading hub and to develop its digital economy. Reforms will focus on promoting Thai investment overseas, reducing the cost of doing business, tackling corruption, improving logistics and infrastructure, building a better tax structure, and developing a new body to govern the digital economy. Through these reforms the Thai government intends to support the Thai private sector, facilitate trade and promote overseas investment.  

Trade and Investment

Australia's trade and economic relationship with Thailand has grown strongly since the entry into force of the Thailand-Australia Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) on 1 January 2005. Total two-way trade in 2013 was $19.5 billion, which was an increase from the 2012 figure of $18.4 billion. Thailand is now Australia's eighth-largest goods and services trading partner, and our second-largest in ASEAN. Total Thai investment stock in Australia has grown significantly from $338 million in 2006, to $6.1 billion in 2013. In 2013, Thailand ranked as Australia’s 16th largest source of FDI stock. Australian investment in Thailand for 2013 was over $2.8 billion.

Australia continues to work with Thailand on the implementation of TAFTA. A Joint Working Group on Agriculture meeting was held in August 2014. In 2013, meetings of the TAFTA Expert Group on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and Food Standards, Joint Working Group on Agriculture, and Market Access Implementing Committee advanced work conducted in the third TAFTA Joint Commission meeting held in 2012.

Australia and Thailand are also parties to the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, which entered into force on 1 January 2010. Both Australia and Thailand are currently participating in negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, launched in November 2012.

Information on doing business and opportunities in Thailand

High level visits

November 2013: Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, the Hon Josh Frydenberg visited Thailand for the Bangkok Dialogue on the Rule of Law

February 2013: Then Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Bob Carr met Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Surapong Tovichakchaikul in Thailand.

May 2012: To mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and Thailand, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra visited Australia.

August 2012: His Majesty the King’s granddaughter, Princess Bajarakitiyabha visited Australia to highlight the anniversary celebrations.

Last Updated: 12 November 2014