Discussions between Sweden and Thailand intensify in the light of possible barter deal for JAS Gripen fighter jets

Key in all these bilateral projects is Thailand’s commitment to intensify discussions with Sweden about a possible barter deal for JAS Gripen fighter jets.
Commerce Minister Watana Muangsook has been assigned to lead the Thai side’s negotiations with the Swedish government and the aircraft supplier Saab.
State secretary Lars Danielsson, one of Göran Persson’s closest associates in the cabinet, heads the Swedish Gripen committee.
Several observers that have joined the two Prime Minister’s meetings can vouch that the two personalities match very well.
Something that Thaksin Shinawatra touched upon in his introductory remarks when he spoke during the 23 September welcome dinner, hosted by Göran Persson.
“The discussion between Prime Minister Persson and I this afternoon was not only fruitful, but also demonstrates that our two countries share many common interests and the same vision to make our working relationship stronger and more concrete. Our discussions covered such a wide range of issues. We both benefited from each other’s views on regional and international affairs. That is why I have found in Prime Minister Persson such a fond and valuable friend,” said the Thai Prime Minister.
But the first item on Thaksin Shinawatra’s Swedish schedule that September day was a meeting with the Swedish monarch.
“This afternoon, I consider it such a great honour to be granted an audience with His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. I was so gratified by His Majesty’s knowledge of, and affection for, Thailand after the Royal Visit with Her Majesty Queen Silvia in February 2003 and 2004. And in January of this year, Prime Minister Persson also paid his official visit to Thailand. So today, it is so good to see you again,” the Thai Prime Minister continued.
A JAS Gripen delivery to the Royal Thai Air Force would be a multi billion affair in any currency, SEK or THB, and discussions between Sweden and Thailand have intensified further since Thaksin Shinawatra returned to Bangkok.
“I think it is positive and am not at all surprised. I have noticed in our meetings that they are interested,” said Göran Persson during a break at the ASEM meeting in Hanoi 7-9 October where he again had consultations with the Thai Prime Minister.
“This is very important,” Persson went on, about the impact of a Thai deal for Saab that manufactures Gripen, and for the Swedish defence forces’ budget.
“Sweden will live with the JAS Gripen system for many years ahead. It will be improved and changed over the years as new technology is developed and added and defence strategies are changed. The more that share this investment, the better it is for Swedish taxpayers.”
And Göran Persson does also see advantages and positive effects of a JAS Gripen deal on trade with South East Asia. That might be a real breakthrough.
“Yes, but even without it, is Sweden heading for a breakthrough in South East Asia. I have spent much time on that issue. South East Asia has the same potential China had twenty years ago.”
The Swedish fighter aircraft system has already been tried for real by RTAF pilots.
Two Thai pilots have flown at least ten flights each with JAS 39 Gripen at the F7 Såtenäs air force wing in Sweden.
If they are among the enthusiastic Isan flying aces that vote for Jas Gripen on the message board of Wing 21 in Ubon Rachathani we don’t know.
But a quick look on that home page shows that Jas Gripen is well known, liked and preferred among some of the people who will fly it if the deal comes through.
And early October RTAF Chief ACM Kongsak Watana praised the Swedish system in statements to foreign media. So it all looks very promising.
But as always, Sweden’s Prime Minister Göran Persson reiterated his government’s support to a Gripen deal with Thailand and underscored that the business side of that agreement must be negotiated by Saab.
Bilateral cooperation in trade, such as investment, tourism, science, bio-technology, pharmaceuticals and design were also discussed in Stockholm.
Thaksin Shinawatra led a large delegation of ministers, advisers and Thai CEO’s from all important industry segments in Thailand.
And they met with the Swedish business elite. For example Marcus Wallenberg, head of Sweden’s oldest powerful family empire, Electrolux´ Chairman Michael Treschow and Saab’s CEO Åke Svensson, to mention a few.
Together they represent billions of SEK in trade and investment over many years with Thailand.
“Sweden is our biggest trading partner in Northern Europe,” confirmed Thaksin Shinawatra.
“Last year alone, the total value of our bilateral trade figures was 590 million US dollars. But there is more room for our trade to grow. In the areas of basic transportation systems and public utilities, such as telecommunications and electricity, all of which Sweden excels, my Government most clearly welcomes more Swedish investment and know-how,” Thaksin Shinawatra stated in his speech to the Swedish government 23 September in Stockholm.
Thailand’s Prime Minister, who made his family fortune in the IT and telecommunications industry before entering politics, also recognised the progress made by Sweden in various ‘e-industries’.
“In the fields of industrial design and other ICT areas, such as e-Government and e-Education, we can further cooperate to promote a ´knowledge-based society´, with an emphasis on a better quality of education and information technology. I hope that, with your support, our cooperation in this area will soon be strengthened. Such cooperation would yield good and concrete results for the benefit not only of our private and public sectors, but also our common peoples in the streets.”
With more than a quarter million Swedish tourists arriving annually to Thailand the last years, travel is of course a very important industry to nurture for the Thai government.
“In the area of tourism, more Swedish tourists are welcomed to enjoy not only the traditional tourist attractions, but also the health care services and spa de-stress treatment as well as to experience our famous Thai cuisine,” said Thaksin Shinawatra who then delivered a well aimed piece of friendly advice to Sweden’s law makers.
“And if our Swedish friends are attracted to the taste of Thai cuisine, I hope the Thai restaurants with Thai chefs in Sweden can satisfy them with authentic Thai dishes. I also hope these Thai chefs would be able to stay and work to serve you with genuine Thai food,” the Thai Prime Minister said.
Thaksin Shinawatra could very well have gone further than that and stated a fresh example.
Because the very same month he arrived did a Thai restaurant in Stockholm shut down precisely due to red tape with visa and work permit for its current chef.
She had to leave for Thailand after her 18 month visa and work permit ran out in September 2004. The restaurant could not find a replacement and Swedish authorities did not extend her time as requested by the restaurant.
Current visa and work permit regulations for non EU citizens working in Sweden do in this case allow for 18 month stints, after which the worker must return to their own country and apply for a new visa and work permit.

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