“They are the backbone,” she says, adding that the DITP
is reviewing its strategies and directions to better assist not only SMEs, but also villages (called tambons).
A government policy to help develop and promote OTOP (“One Tambon, One Product”) products for greater provincial economic development relies on DITP for assistance in marketing and a bit of research and development (R&D).
“There are lots of people producing OTOP products and we can help them in terms of providing knowledge to improve their products,” says Ms Rastapana.
Beyond handicrafts, local strengths include cosmetics and wellness goods, owing to the traditional knowledge of herbs and the excellent spa products Thais have long produced.
“We have good potential to build up our exports in the wellness industry,” states the DG.
In line with wellness are Thailand’s organic foods. It is only natural that a country with such worldwide fame for its cuisine produces wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables, many of which are still unknown beyond the region of Southeast Asia.
“We are promoting Thailand as ‘the Kitchen of the World’,” remarks Ms Rastapana. “We can use Thai traditional knowledge and culture, the ‘Thai-ness’, to build our products; and while there are a lot of things that we have to consider, we have to be very focused.”
Due to the global economic situation, the DITP has had to revise its export strategy. While 2011 saw a year-on-year rise of 14 per cent in exports, 2012 didn’t fare so well, registering a mere 3.12 per cent growth. Combined with an 8.22 per cent increase in import value, Thailand’s trade deficit climbed to $18.07 billion (£11.6 billion).
In order to turn the tide on this negative trend, DITP is choosing its markets and its exports more carefully. Currently, Thailand’s main exports are manufactured goods, with machinery and equipment, electronics and foodstuffs being the most important, as well as agricultural goods.
“We have to be selective; we cannot really afford to do the same thing as in the past. This means that we have to set the targets in terms of the markets as well as the sectors that we are going to push,” says Ms Rastapana.
“Europe is of course still very important for Thailand as an export market. We have to keep our market share in Europe and at the same time diversify markets. So we are looking at the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, but the first priority will be the ASEAN community, plus six others: India, New Zealand, Australia, China, Japan and South Korea.”
Free trade agreements with ASEAN and all of the aforementioned countries, with the exception of South Korea, will open up many more opportunities for trade.
In terms of the supply side, the DITP is targeting the sectors that create more value for the economy.
The DITP is a one-stop service centre for Thai exporters as well as for foreign investors interested in doing business with Thailand. The organisation provides a comprehensive range of services, including trade information and advisory services, match-making link-ups, business networking and statistics on Thai products and manufacturers.
Thailand’s export arm has numerous offices around the world, including 10 in Western Europe, seven in North America, six in East Asia and nine in the ASEAN region.