An interview with Thitiwat Sukhasvasti Na Ayudhya, the Counsellor on Economic Affairs at the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington, DC.
Why is APEC important for the United States?
There is a lot of history behind it. The United States was one of the founding members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). The first leader’s summit was organized in the United States at Blake Island, Washington. Also, because the United States upholds the principles of free, fair, and open trade policies, it is important for them to maintain that value within APEC. This is so APEC can foster and create an even playing field for US companies in the global market in Asia-Pacific and vice versa.
APEC does not just stop with trade...since its establishment [it] has evolved into including other various initiatives. It also serves as an incubator for ideas which makes it an important forum for countries, and especially for the United States, to address issues effecting trade and commerce. Now, the United States plays a vital role instilling the value of how to include women in the economy and how to promote supply chain resiliency, to mention a few, and importantly, the inclusion of sustainable economy.
APEC's 21 member economies account for around 47% of global commerce. As of 2021, fellow APEC countries received more than 60% of US goods exports, and seven of the top ten export destinations for the United States are APEC members.
Why the theme 'Open, Connect, and Balance' for the Thailand-hosted APEC this year?
Starting with the theme Open: FTAAP, which stands for Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, is APEC’s regional free trade agreement, and is one of the oldest ideas for promoting mutually beneficial Asia-Pacific regional cooperation. With this, it has gone through various iterations for 15 years. In the past, free trade agreements did not discuss much about digital trade, supply chain or emerging issues. Therefore, the concept of Open for Thailand is to invite a dialogue regarding current and emerging economic concerns, an opportunity to discuss and revitalize how the community is going to implement the concept of FTAAP. This is to facilitate trade investment with new ideas and new dialogues. With this opportunity and the concept of Open, Thailand can set the agenda of sustainable trade as one of the priorities over the years.
Regarding Connect: Because of how economically connected we are with one another, it is important for us to travel. The pandemic created many obstacles when traveling...this made us come up with an idea for how we can make traveling easier-where we can support and facilitate people within the region. To mitigate this obstacle, we have begun putting forward the APEC Business Travel Card. This can help citizens of the APEC community move through different countries or regions freely for business purposes. We are also looking at other sectors that we can expand [into], particularly the educational sector.
Finally, Balance is tied to sustainability. The country was a strong advocate of sustainability three years ago when Thailand hosted ASEAN in Bangkok. As a country, sustainability is also one of our main themes and challenges. As mentioned previously with Open, it led us to incorporate that issue in this year’s theme of APEC. To further elaborate on this, we introduced Bangkok Goals on (Bio-Circular-Green) BCG economy. This is important because it emphasizes how we are going to see ourselves in the next 10 years. What benchmarks should we have for our long-term goals?
In the past, when we wanted to develop our economies, we only tried to increase trade volume, number of tourists, to name a few. However, these were not sustainable issues. Therefore, in order to achieve sustainable goals, we need to balance our priorities and maintain it in the long run, which we find most valuable to the APEC community. We are proud that we and other counties are able to reach a consensus on this matter, which will go on for another 10 to 20 years. Next year, we will begin talks regarding action plans and Bangkok Goals on BCG economy is one of our greatest deliverables.
With Thailand introducing BCG, how can the United States specifically help achieve this?
The US government is a strong supporter of bringing the attention of BCG economy and has supported Thailand to bring forth its concept into the agenda for this year’s summit. As you are aware, the United States will prioritize the concept of sustainability in the upcoming summit to be held in San Fransico. The summit will tackle sustainability issues from different angles and focus more specifically on the environment. These might include issues such as marine debris or IUU finishing. Along those lines, we can expect those to come into fruition and action.
As the United States is very supportive of sustainability, it [the 2023 APEC Summit] will also touch on the topic of energy security, where they might introduce and help local Americans and the APEC community have access to affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy. This is vital for the United States as the country itself and others are in a transition to renewable energy and the United States will use APEC as a forum to discuss these ideas.
What are your personal expectations of the next APEC Summit?
It is imperative the United States continues the work of Thailand, especially with sustainability despite the differences we might see because of how large the United States is. Unfortunately, this will not be easy for the United States, especially when it comes to multilateral cooperation. I hope the United States will be the forerunner of consensus among APEC economies, that others would like to pursue and have common ground on emerging issues.
Aside from recuperating from the pandemic, Russia’s war in Ukraine and other geopolitical issues have made things more difficult. Therefore, it is imperative the United States lead consensus; where we are going to see a lot of focus on (1) trade facilitation, which is the core of APEC; (2) digital economy and climate issues; (3) women’s economic empowerment and; (4) small businesses. Lastly and most consequential for the United States, is on the subject of (5) worker-centric policies. These are important and align with the Biden administration's priorities, which emphasize representation and inclusivity.
With a new Thai ambassador, what do you think will be his main priority based on Thailand’s host of the APEC summit?
Since he just arrived, it's too early to say. However, he was very clear from the beginning he would like to help promote Thai start-ups and small businesses, both in Thailand and the United States. In his previous position as the spokesperson for Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he had the opportunity to meet many new and young entrepreneurs [who have the potential] to come up with ideas to invest further in the United States.
Therefore, one of his main priorities will be promoting Thai start-ups in the US market with accelerator programs. Second, is to make sure the United States carries on our [Thailand] proposal with regards to BCG goals. Last, is to continue Thai investment in the United States. He had an opportunity to hold talks with big Thai investors to invest in the United States. Examples of these companies are Indorama Ventures, Banpu, PTT, and CP, which have been accelerating their market footprint in the United States.
Narupat Rattanakit is a Pericles Institute Fellow and Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He graduated with a BA from Thammasat University in 2020 and is pursuing his MA in US Foreign Policy and National Security with a regional focus in Southeast Asia.