The question was put forward by President of the Thai-Norwegian Chamber of Commerce Mr. Nils-Gunnar Hjellegjerde at the Thai-Norway Business Seminar held on Wednesday 16 October 2002 at the Hotel Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit. But it was left hanging in the air by the 40 members plus staff from the Royal Norwegian Embassy and Norwegian Trade Council who participated in the seminar.
The half day event was the first ever to be organized jointly by the three organisations involved with serving the Thai-Norwegian relations on different levels and with different scopes. As such, the seminar was also the launch of a new closer cooperation between the three parties whenever it serves their mutual interests.
After a welcome introduction by Mr. John Svengren, Executive Director of the TNCC, the seminar started with a speech by Mrs. Ragne Birte Lund, Ambassador to Thailand of Norway. The Ambassador outlined the work at the embassy and touched on a number of subjects of joint interest like the “branding” of Norway in Thailand. Her background paper for the speech will soon be made available www.norcham.com, the website of the TNCC together with the presentations made by the other speakers of the day.
In anticipation of a dialogue with the participants at the end of the seminar, questions to the Ambassador or comments to her speech was kept until later.
Next, Mr. Ivar Hoff, Head of the Norwegian Trade Council’s South East Asia Hub and Trade Counsellor for Thailand, briefed on the NTC and the Business Concept of the Council. During his three years in Bangkok the NTC had experienced a major success with its identification of Norwegian Seafood as its primary focus area and consequently promoted and expanded this product group at a range of levels. At a recent Trade Exhibition at the BITEC centre, catering companies as well as consumers had persistently demanded to buy the products and eventually the staff at the stand had given in to the demand. Other recent jobs had been the selection of a Thai distributor to the Norwegian dry bread brand Kavli – as well as providing assistance to a yet undisclosed major Thai-Norwegian garbage disposal project in Chiangmai.
After a coffee-break, Mr. Tor Elden explained about the efforts undertaken by his organisation, “Fredskorpset”, assisting Norwegian companies and companies in developing countries in establishing partnerships as well establishing partnerships between two or more companies in developing countries with business links to Norway. A focal point of the efforts of “Fredskorpset” is to facilitate traineeships by young Norwegian people in these companies. Mr. Tor Elden envisioned that the Thai-Norwegian Chamber of Commerce could play a role as a “local agent” for his organisation by identifying more companies suitable for traineeships for young Norwegians with a duration from three months and up to one year.
Comments from the participants at the seminar as well as from the two current post-graduate students at the Chamber’s office send a clear message to Mr. Tor Elden, that three months was too short. It was barely time enough for a student to adjust to the Thai environment. Mr. Elden was also told that his organisation had to seriously work on its name – directly translated into English, “Fredskorpset” means The Peace Corps. Anywhere outside Norway this would be associated with the American Peace Corps. Although Mr. Elden said his organisation strongly disliked this, they had so far only talked about maybe changing its name.
The legal conditions for any foreign company in Thailand was the subject of the next speaker, Khun Piyanuch, attorney with the prominent Thai law firm Tillekke and Gibbins. Khun Piyanuch pointed in a clear and short presentation to the main legal codes which any foreign business manager would have to be intimately familiar with in order to conduct business in Thailand according to the law. Apart from the Foreign Business Act, this included immigration and labour law regulations as well as regulations related to real estate ownership and intellectual property rights.
Participants posed a few specific questions to Khun Piyanuch and some of her colleagues from the law firm present, among others the rule that any foreigner must report to the immigration every 90 days or face a fine per day over this limit. Although not often enforced, at least one members present could confirm that the immigration police at times do impose this fine of some 200 baht per day exceeding the basic 90 days – regardless of the visa still being valid for another six or more months.
The final speech was Mr. Nils-Gunnar Hjellegjerde’s presentation of the re-focused Chamber objectives in the light of the various complementary organisations and institutions surrounding the Chamber, which also served or partly served Thai Norwegian interests. Apart from the NTC and the Embassy, these included the Nordmandsforbundet, the Scandinavian Society Siam, the Scandinavian Church and the other Nordic Chambers, of which the TNCC shares secretariat with the Danish-Thai and the Thai-Swedish Chamber of Commerce.
The President’s main conclusion was that the TNCC was strictly a business association compared to the more social associations and that its scope was to assist its members with their specific problems with doing business in Thailand and leave broader questions regarding the general business climate for foreign companies in Thailand to umbrella organisations like the joint F4C – Foreign Chambers of Commerce Coordinating Committee.
The President also briefly introduced the new graphic identity program developed for the Chamber which would be implemented in the Chamber magazine – to be renamed as of January 2003 from The Pamphlet to “something else” –
The seminar was finally capped with a dinner for the participants and other invited guests across the floor from the Grand Ballroom, where the half day seminar had taken place, after a brief break in which the Board of Directors of the TNCC gathered for a debriefing and evaluation of the first seminar of its kind held in the history of the TNCC.