Forging new bonds

The British Chamber of Commerce is looking to broaden networks for its members 
against the backdrop of Brexit and slowly liberalising markets 
- By Jesus Alcocer -

The British Chamber of Commerce Thailand (BCCT), one of Thailand’s first Western business organisations, has repositioned itself in the wake of Brexit and increasingly complex Thai-European relationships.

During the last five years, BCCT has emphasised more focused events on specific topics rather than fewer, bigger events. The chamber found its members have different needs concerning information and support.

“We are working more with other chambers and organisations. Members have limited time they can spend out of the office and by working with partners, we provide our members access to different networks,” said Greg Watkins, executive director of BCCT.

Five years ago the chamber commenced a project, partially funded by the British government, to provide direct business services support to British small businesses looking to enter the Thai market. The BCCT team has expanded and now has a British Business Centre for use as a meeting and event venue.

“This centre has broadened our membership base and given the chamber office team new skills that can support our members here,” said Mr Watkins.

Less than a year ago BCCT reestablished its Young Professionals Group.

“Young entrepreneurs will drive Thailand’s economic future. Events are very well-attended and provide another means of expanding business networks for members,” he said.

Serving this group is important given the increasing complexity of Thai-European ties, said Mr Watkins.

“With Brexit nearing, Britain and Thailand will be entering a new relationship. There will be opportunities and threats on both sides. BCCT is playing an active role in advocating greater market access for its members in Thailand,” he said.

The organisation is expanding its role in the Thai community as the country goes through a political transition and the world feels the reverberations of the Brexit referendum.

Before, BCCT engaged its members through decision-making, leadership and presentation workshops. Now the chamber is expanding its Thai-language events programme to include presentations on hot topics by well-respected figures in the Thai private and public sectors, he said.

“By doing so, we hope to engage more directly with the Thai business community and again give our members access to wider networks,” said Mr Watkins.

Being successful in Thailand is all about commitment to developing close business relationships, and understanding and working with partners and customers over time, he said.

“Though amazing advances in communications over the past decade allow us to communicate instantaneously, there is no substitute for face-to-face personal contact in terms of developing relationships,” said Mr Watkins.

The chamber also introduced the Thai-UK Business Leadership Council (TUBLC), an initiative that brings together the Thai and British private and public sectors to address key bilateral issues and identify opportunities. BCCT engages with over 300 British companies in the UK 5-6 times a year, he said.

“With Brexit nearing, more British companies are looking beyond traditional export and investment markets such as Europe and North America. The challenge is for Thailand to be seen as an attractive destination,” said Mr Watkins.

Challenges remain despite the chamber’s expanded role in Thai civil society. Most British companies do not qualify for promotions from the Board of Investment or under the Eastern Economic Corridor project. They must operate under the Foreign Business Act (FBA), which has many restrictions.

Greg Watkins

“British companies would like to see liberalisation of the FBA, continued loosening of visa and work permit requirements, and relaxation of land ownership laws,” he said.

Visits to Britain by high-profile Thai public and private sector figures greatly support the work of the TUBLC and BCCT’s own efforts in promoting opportunities in Thailand to British businesses, said Mr Watkins.

“The key to success will be the degree to which Thailand is able to liberalise market access as part of the new post-Brexit bilateral relationship,” he said.
Many British companies are looking at opportunities here but waiting for specific details, said Mr Watkins.

“We have all seen companies from China, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore looking more closely, with some reported as committed to investment, but companies from Asia will always move more quickly than British firms to take advantage of opportunities in other Asian countries,” he said.



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