Thailand country brief
Recent Political Developments in Thailand
On 3 July 2011, Thailand's Puea Thai Party won a majority 265 of 500 seats in Thailand's general election. In coalition with several minor parties, Puea Thai controls 300 seats in parliament. On 5 August 2011, Ms Yingluck Shinawatra became Thailand's 28th prime minister and its first female prime minister. Yingluck is the sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a coup in September 2006.
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the world's longest reigning monarch and celebrated the 67th anniversary of his accession on 9 June 2013.
Thailand recovered well from the global financial crisis with rapid implementation of a fiscal stimulus package and monetary easing, but its economy suffered in the wake of the Japanese tsunami and, more importantly, as a result of severe floods in the second half of 2011. The floods claimed 815 lives and caused extensive damage to Thailand’s manufacturing and agricultural industries. As a consequence, GDP growth fell to 0.1 per cent in 2011 from 7.8 per cent in 2010. Thailand’s GDP grew 6.4 per cent in 2012 on the back of global economic recovery and higher domestic consumption. For 2013, growth is forecast at between 3.8 and 4.3 per cent.
The Thai Government has announced a series of large-scale infrastructure projects and spending plans to support private consumption and stimulate domestic demand. They have included a national minimum wage and a support scheme for rice farmers. These policies are designed to move the country away from its reliance on exports for economic growth. Headline inflation for 2012 was 3.0 per cent and projected to be 2.3 to 2.8 per cent in 2013.
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 facilitated by mutual membership of bodies such as the East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Regional Forum, APEC, Asia-Europe Meeting and the Cairns Group.
Australia’s former Foreign Minister, the Hon Senator Bob Carr, visited Thailand from 20 to 22 February 2013. Senator Carr held talks with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Surapong Tovichakchaikul on regional developments as well as bilateral cooperation. He also met Australian business representatives in Thailand, Thai investors, NGOs and local academics, journalists and editors.
2012 marked the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and Thailand. The highlight of celebrations was the visit of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to Australia from 26 to 29 May. Prime Minister Yingluck and then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard issued a joint communique on 28 May announcing new initiatives to increase bilateral cooperation, including in the areas of education, trade, disaster management, energy, food safety, security, and regional and global affairs.
The visit by His Majesty the King’s granddaughter, Princess Bajarakitiyabha, from 15 to19 August was also a highlight of celebrations. The former Attorney-General hosted the Princess as a guest of the Australian Government. Her program included meetings with the Governor-General, the Chief Justice of the High Court, the Global Ambassador for Women and Girls, the Australian Institute of Criminology, the Australian Crime Prevention Council, and the NSW Women’s Legal Service.
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej 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.
Our strong bilateral relations are reflected in extensive people-to-people links. Australia continues to be a leading destination for Thai students, with over 19,900 Thais studying in Australia in 2012. Thailand attracts large numbers of Australians for tourism and business – over 952,000 Australians visited Thailand in 2012. Australia was a major aid partner prior to Thailand's decision in 2003 to cease receiving development assistance. Many Thais studied in Australia under the Colombo Plan and other scholarship programs.
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. Two-way trade more than doubled to nearly $20 billion in 2010, but was set back by the 2011 floods in Thailand. Total two-way trade in 2012 was $18.4 billion. Thailand is now Australia's eighth-largest trading partner measured by two-way trade and our second-largest in ASEAN. Australia is also Thailand’s eighth-largest trading partner. TAFTA has also improved business mobility, strengthened transparency, encouraged international best practice, and promoted bilateral cooperation in a range of areas including customs procedures, government procurement, competition policy and intellectual property protection.
Australia continues to work with Thailand on the implementation of TAFTA. A third TAFTA Joint Commission meeting was held in Bangkok on 21 June 2012. The meeting, hosted by Thailand, resulted in progress towards the two reviews mandated under TAFTA and improved implementation procedures. This work was progressed by officials in 2013 with meetings of the TAFTA Expert Group on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and Food Standards (15-16 July), Joint Working Group on Agriculture (17 July) and Market Access Implementing Committee (26 July). 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.
A treaty-level Agreement on Bilateral Cooperation entered into force on 27 July 2005. It complements TAFTA by providing 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. In addition, 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. The inaugural meeting of the Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation, as established under the Agreement, was convened by the then-Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Stephen Smith, MP, and the then-Thai Minister for Foreign Affairs, HE Mr Kasit Piromnya, on 8 May 2009 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.
In November 2003, the Royal Thai Government expressed its wish to transition from being an aid recipient to being an aid donor. However, there are a number of regional programs in human trafficking, labour rights, health, disaster management and economic integration that include Thailand. Australia also continues to provide limited support to Thailand as part of efforts to strengthen the capacity of regional organisations such as ASEAN and APEC.
In 2012-13, Australia provided $4.5 million to aid organisations in Thailand to assist with displaced people and refugees from Myanmar. Australia provided $1 million and 100,000 sandbags to help Thailand recover from its worst floods in over a decade in 2011. In May 2009, Australia provided an assistance package of $1 million to assist in improving education in southern Thailand, with a focus on science and maths.
Updated September 2013