Thailand and Italy: Old Friends, New Possibilities

 

Thailand and Italy celebrated the 150th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic ties in 2018. On 3 October 1868, representatives of Their Majesties King Chulalongkorn of Siam (King Rama V) and King Vittorio Emanuele II of Italy signed the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce. Since then, Italy and Thailand have steadily cultivated friendly relations that have matured into mutual respect and partnership across different fields.

In recent years, Thailand and Italy have forged closer political ties. The first political consultation between the two countries took place in Rome in November 2016. Shortly thereafter, in February 2017, former Italian foreign minister Angelino Alfano visited Bangkok. In March 2017, his Thai counterpart, His Excellency Don Pramudwinai, paid a return visit to Rome. The Thai prime minister, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, met with the Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, on the sidelines of the ASEM Summit in Brussels in October 2018. In June of this year, the Honourable Chief Justice Cheep Jullamon, President of the Supreme Court of Thailand, will be visiting Italy as the guest of the Honourable Giovanni Mammone, First President of the Supreme Court of Italy. He will also meet with the Honourable Roberto Fico, the President of the Chamber of Deputies.

At the same time, our private sectors are co-operating to increase bilateral trade and investment. The fifth meeting of the Italian-Thai Business Forum took place in Rome in May 2019. Over 20 major Thai and Italian companies, responsible for USD2 billion’s worth of trade and investment between our two countries, gathered to discuss economic opportunities and improve business ties. Our economic relations continue to be dynamic despite the global economic slowdown and growing protectionism. Thailand’s Central Group’s investment in La Rinascente department stores has won praise for preserving an iconic Italian brand and employing more than 5,000 staff across Italy. Italian companies are actively participating in the development of Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor. Ferrovie dello Stato (FS Group) of Italy, together with CP Group of Thailand, has submitted a tender for the high-speed rail project linking Thailand’s three international airports. FS Group will soon open an office in Thailand. Moreover, Ducati Motor is considering opening a second factory in Thailand after the success of its first factory in Rayong Province. The world’s leading helicopter manufacturer, Leonardo Company, is also setting up an office in Thailand.

Thai-Italian bilateral trade averaged USD3,400 million per year between 2015 and 2017. In 2017, total trade between our two countries reached over USD3,700 million, an increase of 8% from 2016. Italy ranks 24th among Thailand’s most important trading countries, the fifth in the European Union after Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and France. By comparison, Thailand ranks 48th among Italy’s trading partners and second in ASEAN, behind Singapore.

Just as important as political and economic relations is cultural linkage, which plays a special role in fostering Thai–Italian friendship. Historically, Italian architects and engineers were employed in the Court of Siam to help modernize the nation and build important structures such as Bangkok’s Hua Lampong railway station and Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall. At that time, opening Siam to Western culture was a way to show progress against a backdrop of colonialist expansion. These buildings have stood the test of time and have nowadays become a symbol of Italian influence on Thai architecture.

Our people-to-people contact is flourishing. Tourism plays a key role in encouraging the people of both countries to better understand and respect each other’s cultures. In 2018, more than 280,000 Italians visited Thailand, while 37,000 Thais visited Italy. The Italian language is taught at Thailand’s premier academic institutions including Chulalongkorn and Thammasat universities. Ca’ Foscari University in Venice is offering Thai language courses with a view to establishing a Thai studies programme in the coming year.

It is clear that our state-to-state, people-to-people and business connections are growing steadily. Our long history of friendship and mutual goodwill provides a solid foundation for creating more opportunities to expand and deepen Thai-Italian relations.

 

 

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