While hopping around the city to various farewell events in her honour, India’s outgoing ambassador to Thailand, Latha Reddy, took out time during her annual health check-up at Bumrungrad Hospital to talk to Bangkok Post about her achievements during her three-year tenure in Bangkok.
“I have always been in love with this city ever since I first stepped foot here in 1969 as a young student,” said Ms Reddy. She stayed a full month in the city during her initial trip to Thailand as a tourist, she added.
A week ahead of her departure to India as the Secretary for East Asia, Ms Reddy takes pride in the progress in bilateral relations between India and Thailand.
“My greatest achievement has been the signing of the India-Asean FTA during the Asean chairmanship by Thailand,” she sai, with a broad smile.
The Asean-India free trade agreement was signed in August this year in Bangkok, after years of negotiation and with plenty of hard work from the staff of Ms Reddy, who was determined to iron out any obstacles.
“Now what I am hoping for is the FTA to be expanded to include the investment and service sectors as well,” she said. The initial FTA, set to be implemented on Jan 1, 2010, only covers trade.
Ms Reddy, who has served in the Indian diplomatic service for more than three decades, sees the rapid growth of trade between Thailand and India as the other big achievement of her tenure in Bangkok.
Trade between Thailand and India has risen by nearly 130% since she came to Thailand. Last year it reached about US$6 billion, up from only $2.6 billion in 2006. Next year the two-way trade is expected to pass $10 billion after the India-Asean FTA takes full effect.
Last year’s trade figure was mainly from the 82 items on the early-harvest list of the India-Thai FTA – one agreement that failed to materialise in Ms Reddy’s tenure.
Years of talks have failed to achieve any Thailand-India FTA agreement, but the two sides are very close to a deal in the very near future, said Ms Reddy.
“After all the FTAs are in place, the trade between the two countries will see a tremendous growth,” she said.
Ms Reddy has convinced Thai companies of the potential of India through organising seminars and product shows and by insisting Indian companies attend.
“Today we have so many Thai companies that are investing in India, I cannot name all of them. But the likes of Italian-Thai [Italian-Thai Development Plc], Preuksa [Preuksa Real Estate Plc], Dusit Thani, Charoen Pokphand Group, Delta Electronics and many others are all actively participating in expanding their operations that they already have in India,” she said.
Italian-Thai Development has bought a company in India and is winning various infrastructure projects, she said. Preuksa has built a housing complex in Bangalore and is planning to expand to other cities, while hoteliers like Dusit Thani are looking at lots of Indian cities, she added.
After only two years in the Indian market, Delta Electronics aims for its sales there to reach $1 billion soon. Charoen Pokphand Group has expressed its interest in food processing operations in India, in addition to its existing aquaculture operations.
Indian companies have also been actively participating in Thailand’s economic development.
“Over the years I have been here, Tata has come here. We have had the Shriram Group from India too and others,” she said.
Tata Group, one of India’s largest conglomerates, expanded its operations in Thailand when it bought a steel plant from the Siam Cement Group and renamed it Tata Steel Plc. Another Tata unit, Tata Motors, has started a pickup truck manufacturing plant in Thailand, taking advantage of Thailand’s status as a world pickup production hub.
“All this is helping bring the age-old ties between the two countries closer,” said Ms Reddy. The high-level political delegation visiting the two countries has helped cement ties, she added.
Ms Reddy has also tried to deepen cultural ties between the two countries, which she sees as going “hand-in-hand” with economic links.
During her tenure, the “head” sculpture by Indian artist Ravinder Reddy (no relative) was erected at CentralWorld complex. An Indian cultural centre has also been set up in Bangkok, the first since the two countries established diplomatic ties more than 60 years ago, where Thais can discover India’s classical music, dance and yoga.
“We have managed to secure funds from the Government of India to have teachers in the field of music, dance and yoga along with other operational needs,” she said.
The centre’s director reports to the culture ministry in India, she added.
In Ms Reddy’s view, such measure can cement relations and bring economic benefits, as increasing trade with India is a win-win situation for both countries.