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20 Aug, 2007

Thailand Seeks Closer Trade, Tourism Ties with Islamic World

Two major finance- and business-related events to be held for the first time in Thailand next month are designed to boost trade, transportation and tourism links between Thailand and the Islamic world, and also become part of the multi-faceted efforts to address the problems in South Thailand.

Hundreds of senior business and finance executives from across the Islamic world will be in Thailand first for a conference on Islamic finance on September 6 followed immediately thereafter by the “World of Muslim 2007” trade show and conference from September 7-9.

The Islamic finance conference is being organised by Dataconsult, an associate of the Economist Corporate Network, in cooperation with the Thai Ministry of Finance, Islamic Bank of Thailand and Bank Negara Malaysia along with UK Trade & Investment, Zaid Ibrahim Law Office, and the merchant bank Aseambankers.

Christopher Bruton, Dataconsult’s Director for Thailand and Indochina, said, “This is the first conference event on Islamic finance to take place in Thailand and is an attempt to create better understanding of the opportunities offered by Shari’ah law compliant lending.

“This differs from conventional interest-based lending in a number of respects and, by bringing borrow and lender, entrepreneur and financier, together in a relationship similar in some respects to partnership, creates a more ethical banking relationship.

“Islamic finance also brings a strong sense of ethics in finance, also rejecting dubious industries such as gambling and liquor. However Thailand has been slow in encouraging development of Islamic finance, and has not yet instituted tax, mortgage and regulatory amendments to favour Islamic banking systems.”

Mr Bruton said the conference is designed “to bring to the attention of the financial and business command to the general public that Islamic financial systems are not for Muslims alone, but for all those who need access to banking and financial services, whatever their religion.

“Apart from the conference contents, we have a lot of materials from UK, Malaysia and elsewhere, about developments in Islamic finance, the fastest growing banking system in the World, which could bring stability to turbulent financial markets.”

Mr Bruton said that this conference, as well as the “World of Muslim” event, would “help to create greater harmony with the Islamic community, presenting a different environment from the crisis in Southern Thailand. It also reaffirms strong relationships between Thailand and Malaysia, within the ASEAN context.”

A similar view was voiced at the Press conference to announce the “World of Muslim 2007” which is being organised by the Thai Chamber of Commerce, Thai-Islamic Trade and Industrial Association and The Halal Science Centre, Chulalongkorn University, with the support of the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau.

TITIA President Mr. Anirut Smutkochorn commented, “TITIA and the Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry have realized the importance of establishing relationships, image and good understanding between Thailand and the Muslim countries.” He said he expected at least 3,000 delegates from 57 Islamic countries to attend the event.

Associate Professor Winai Dahlan, Dean of Allied Health Sciences Faculty and Director of Business Incubator for Halal Products Centre at Chulalongkorn was quoted as saying, “The Muslim market in Thailand is growing steadily every year, at the rate of 12.47% from the year 2000 -2006, generating a revenue of 11,052 million baht yearly.”

Although Thailand ranks 12th in the world in terms of food export, its share in the Halal products market in 2006 was only US$330 million or 0.057%, suggesting an immense potential for food export, particularly to the Muslim countries stretching across Southeast Asia to North Africa.

“The consumption of Halal foods is not just limited to the Muslim world but has become widespread in non-Muslim countries with the major markets for Halal foods being the EU and the USA.”

Prof Winai added, “It is essential to have a clear and correct understanding of Halal business since Halal covers a wide range of business such as industry, restaurant, tourism, garments, finance, education and much more.”

Mr. Vithaya Sintharapantorn, Exhibition Director, said TCEB is providing 25 to 30 million baht in funding support to the conference.

He said, “I did not even think that the Muslim market is that big and that we have only a tiny share. We (TCEB) have been supporting different exhibitions, from light to heavy industries, but this is something I had never thought about until they approached us.

“If your think purely from commercial reasons, it’s not good enough but if you think about broader issues, (Thailand can) make it part of the national agenda. We really want to communicate to the world that Thailand is a peaceful country and ready for the Muslim market.”

At the same time, Mr Vithaya said, Thailand would take the opportunity to promote some cross-cultural exchanges by featuring a presentation on His Majesty the King’s sufficiency economy, which could also be applicable in many Islamic countries.

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