The Kingdom of Thailand and the United Kingdom (UK) share a rich history of commerce that first began with trade links in the 17th century, predating even the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce between Great Britain and Siam, better known as the Bowring Treaty, which was signed in 1855. The Treaty marked the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two Kingdoms which have since developed into a strong and mutually rewarding strategic partnership.
Economic relations have long been at the forefront of Thai-UK relations. Currently, the UK is Thailand’s fourth largest trading partner in Europe, with bilateral trade in 2022 reaching around 5 billion pounds. Thailand exported goods worth 3.3 billion pounds to the UK, most of which were poultry, jewellery, motorcycles and components, automobiles and parts, and rubber products. The value of imported goods from the UK was around 1.7 billion pounds, mainly comprising machinery, electrical circuit boards, alcohol and beverages, pharmaceutical products and medical tools and equipment.
In terms of investment, the Thailand Board of Investment (BOI) in 2022 approved 12 investment applications from British companies, totalling some 11 million pounds.
Over the years, British companies have invested in a broad range of sectors in Thailand, including energy, retail, financial services, aviation and automobiles and parts. These companies include Boots, Unilever, Standard Chartered, Prudential, HSBC, BP-Castrol, GKN, Triumphs, Senior Aerospace, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and Meyer. At the same time, major Thai corporations, such as Charoen Pokphand Foods PLC (CPF), Thai Union, Thai Beverage Group, King Power, PTT Exploration and Production PLC, and most recently the Central Group, have also established a strong presence in the UK.
Bilateral Economic Mechanisms
The private sectors in both countries have long played a crucial role in strengthening bilateral economic relations. Providing an essential link between both sides has been the Thai-UK Business Leadership Council (TUBLC). The Council was established in 2016 and serves as a key mechanism to promote closer collaboration between both sides, helping also to identify major trade issues, while putting forward recommendations to improve the ease of doing business and enhancing Thai-UK economic partnership.
More recently, the two countries have also established the Joint Economic and Trade Committee (JETCO) at the ministerial level to explore further opportunities and develop work plans to expand bilateral trade and investment relations and cooperation.
The first JETCO meeting was hosted by the UK on 21 June 2022. Both sides agreed to prioritise six areas of collaboration, namely, (1) agriculture, (2) healthcare, (3) food and beverages, (4) digital, (5) trade and investment, and (6) financial services. Through these six sectors, Thailand and the UK agreed on a joint work plan to promote cooperation over the next 12-18 months, with the aim of increasing the volume of trade back to around 6 billion pounds annually. In addition, both sides would work towards an Enhanced Trade Partnership (ETP), which would lay the foundation for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Thailand and the UK in the future.
The second JETCO meeting is expected to be hosted by Thailand in the last quarter of 2023. Currently, the two sides are working on deliverables of the meeting which may include an MoU on Enhanced Trade Partnership.
Royal Thai Embassy, London สถานเอกอัครราชทูต ณ กรุงลอนดอน
Royal Thai Embassy, 29-30 Queen's Gate, London, SW7 5JB