Interview with His Excellency the British Ambassador Barnaby Smith

How is the balance of trade between Thailand and the United Kingdom?

“There is a misconception that the UK sells much more to the Thais than they sell to us, but the reality is quite the opposite. Last year, for example, Thai exports to the UK were almost triple UK exports to Thailand with Thai exports to the UK amounting to 1,669 million British pounds.  British exports to Thailand only amounted to just under 600 million pounds.

“More generally, these figures also show that trade between our two countries is bouncing back.  Thai exports to the UK are over pre-1997 levels, but UK exports to Thailand are not yet back to the pre-1997 levels.”


Did the effects of 9-11 have much of an effect on the number of Brits traveling to Thailand?

“It doesn’t look like it. British nationals didn’t stop coming to Thailand. 670,000 British visitors came to Thailand last year. That is an increase of seven percent. In fact, we have about the same number of tourists, or a little more than the US, and more than any other European country. Only the Chinese and Japanese have more visitors than we do.

“More generally, it does not seem that the events of 9-11 had the sort of impact on the tourism or airline businesses here in Thailand that many people thought they would.”    


Please tell us about the trend of British investment in Thailand.

“Post 1997, the UK is the third biggest investor in Thailand after Japan and the US. The investments are easy to identify: TESCO Lotus; Standard Chartered, which took over the Nakornthon Bank; and Orange, which is located in the UK although owned by France Telecom.  The investment came from the UK.

“These large investments are not in industry, but rather in the service sector where the Thai economy is moving forward. We have also had a number of medium sized investments in the food processing area. The result of many of these investments has been to increase Thai exports to the UK.

“For example, many of the British supermarkets now source a lot of their chicken products from Thailand. Approximately 60 million British pounds of Thai exports to the UK last year comprised goods procured here by TESCO and sold in TESCO stores in the UK.

“The irony here is that lots of people in Thailand still think that the TESCO stores here sell mostly British products, but they don’t. Most of the goods they sell are Thai goods. While the people who shop in the TESCO stores in the UK are buying lots of goods produced here in Thailand.”             



Do you think that TESCO has overcome the unpleasant and unfair publicity it received last year, which claimed that hyperstores were putting a lot of small Thai shops out of business?

“I think there is a much clearer understanding now of how much TESCO contributes to the Thai economy in terms of employment, quality improvement and of course value for money for consumers. TESCO has also made a real effort to become more involved in the community. And it is significant that when Prime Minister Thaksin recently spoke to the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce he said the government’s objective was to raise the standards of the small shops, not to try and restrict the large stores.”    


In what ways can British expertise help Thai industry?

“Britain is well placed to help Thai exporters deal with technical issues like health regulations about entry into the UK and the rest of the EU. A number of producers here in Thailand have been working with the British companies to make sure their products satisfy UK and EU standards.

“An example of this would be the recent problem with Nitrofuran residues, a carcinogen.  Minute traces were found in some consignments of chicken for export. Grampian, a privately owned UK firm which has invested 50 million British pounds to produce chicken products for export to the UK, has been working closely with the Thai authorities to make sure the testing program here is up to the required standards.”       


In what ways can the Thais hope to gain further British investment?

“Transparency, transparency, and transparency. The Thai government has also recently set up a ‘One Stop Shop’ to deal with investment issues. This is a promising development.  But it’s too early to tell whether that will address everyone’s problems.

“When the Prime Minister recently spoke to the Joint Chambers, he said that a year ago foreign businessmen did not understand his policies, but now they had a clearer understanding about the priority he places on foreign investment. Last year some businessmen were concerned that the government would move against foreign companies.  But as the time has gone on a more optimistic mood has developed reflecting the PM’s frequent statements that he recognizes the value of foreign investment. ”  


How has Prime Minister Thaksin grown on the job?

“He is a lot more confident now. When he went to London in mid-May he had several meetings with businessmen where he opened with a speech and then fielded questions.  He dealt with the British businessmen extremely well. And again at the recent Joint Chamber Luncheon he handled questions in a very authoritative manner. He is always somewhat apologetic about his English, but no one has any trouble understanding him or understanding what he is trying to say. So I think he’s just much more confident in dealing with foreign businessmen now.”     


Is there a specific goal you would like to accomplish before you leave your posting in Bangkok?

“I would like to see the BBC World Service on FM in Bangkok 24 hours a day. Many important Thai Ministers say they support the idea, but we need to identify a spare FM frequency to use. There is no doubt that if an English channel were available that just dealt with current affairs, science, the environment as well as the news then people who wanted to improve their English skills could do so, without charge, by listening to the BBC. It seems to me that this is quite important especially as Thailand repositions itself to cope with e.g. China’s recent entrance to the WTO.  It is also one way of promoting a capital city as a regional international center. Interestingly, the BBC World Service has been available on FM in Singapore for years.”              


Any other goals?

“I would like to see more good applicants for the British Chevening Scholarships.  These are fully funded for one year Diploma or Master’s degrees in the UK and are offered in more than 150 countries worldwide. The program is for high achievers: talented graduates and young professionals who have the potential to reach positions of influence and become future leaders in their chosen field. The scholarship will enable them to become familiar with the UK and gain valuable skills, which will be of benefit both to them personally, and their home country.

“Since 1984 the Chevening program has enabled almost 300 Thai graduates to study in the UK.  Working with British Universities and businesses in Thailand to co-fund some awards, we are now able to offer twenty to thirty scholarships annually in Thailand. Each scholarship is fully funded: tuition fees, living expenses, return airfares are all included.  The scholarship carries no obligations after the scholar has returned to Thailand.

“This is quite a prize. We are getting lots of good applicants but we think there are more good potential applicants out there.  So we are working with the British Council to raise the profile of the program in Thailand, to encourage more of the best to apply for a scholarship. Qualification criteria are high.  Successful applicants will be 25-35 years old, with two years work, a degree of at least GPA 3.0 and excellent English language skills.

“The application period is from now until 15 September. Short-listed candidates will be interviewed in November and successful applicants will be advised in December, in good time to secure a course at almost any British University starting in October 2003.   Further information and application forms are available from the British Council ( or the British Embassy ( and I would encourage anybody with an interest in postgraduate studies to find out more themselves. We aim to make the best even better.”


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