Jon Thorgaard – new Danish ambassador to Thailand and Cambodia

Jon Thorgaard, Denmark’s new ambassador to Thailand and Cambodia, has a history of staying a full term and often longer in his assignments. Even his very first job in the ministry he held for almost 3 years. He is clearly not a job hopper.

Talking to Jon Thorgaard about his new assignment as the Danish Ambassador to Thailand it is therefore not surprising that his perspective is long.

“Denmark would like to see a Free Trade Agreement between Thailand and the EU,” he says as an example of what ambitions Denmark has for its relationship with Thailand over the coming years.

“The EU achieved a free trade agreement with Singapore and more recently so did Vietnam and we have seen an increased business activity in the wake of these agreements,” Jon Thorgaard elaborates.

Jon Thorgaard comes to the job with considerable experience within trade and commerce. The last five years, he has been Head of Department the Danish Trade Council and before that he was based in New York, where he was Deputy at the Consulate General of Denmark and Director for Invest in Denmark for North America.

In his new assignment, Denmark has added to his ambassadorial tasks for Thailand and Cambodia that he will also be the Chairman of the Danish Trade Council for the Asean region. This is one of the new 17 regions, which Denmark has divided the world into, and the other board members will be the ambassadors from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, and Myanmar.

“The regional Trade Council will coordinate cross border assignments for companies and visits to the region by Danish ministers and authorities,” he says.

“Companies, who want success, need to realize that it is when we start by analysing the market together and identify opportunities together and enter a longer lasting partnership, that is when we can really achieve great results together,” he says.

“The one-off job where a company asks us to help them with a short list from the phone book of three potential partners seldom makes much of a difference,” he adds.

Assistance to Danish companies

When asked to elaborate on what the Embassy can do for Danish companies, he says it helps to distinguish between companies that are not yet present on the market, and companies that are already here.

When it comes to Danish companies not yet present in Thailand, the Embassy needs to be even better at identifying and communicating specific business opportunities to them, he says.

“It is not enough to say that the GDP has developed so and so fast over the years. We need to be specific and explain what it is that the Thais are currently investing in. It could for instance be within water solutions because Thai municipalities are exploring shared solutions within this field. This could be a specific opportunity for specific Danish companies in a sector, where Denmark is strong.”

“Opportunities like these open for a relatively short period of time only. We need to be fast in identifying such a window of opportunity and bring the opportunities to the attention of companies offering solutions within the relevant sectors where Denmark is known to be strong, like green solution, health industry, digitalisation.”

“Food production is another area of Danish expertise, which is why we now have a specific commercial expert within food and food production based in Thailand here at the Danish Embassy. There are many food manufacturers in Thailand with the potential to become global suppliers. We need to match them with the Danish companies with specific knowledge how to establish production facilities and distribution geared towards the global market.”

Regarding the companies that are already here, Jon Thorgaard mentions one offer that is often valuable for them, which is to help them influence the authorities to facilitate their operation or market conditions. This can be useful as the embassy will often be able to meet authorities at a higher level than the individual Danish company itself, he explains.

Jon Thorgaard’s office has the best view of all the offices of the Royal Danish Embassy in Bangkok. It used to be the living room of the apartment of the Commercial Councellor and later again the apartment of the Agricultural Councellor.

 

New, but experienced staff

Along with Jon Thorgaard comes an almost entirely new team of Danish diplomats. On the day when ScandAsia visited the Ambassador, there were no less than three new embassy staff who were through with their 14 days of quarantine and ready to start working at the embassy.

They were Nils Robenhagen, Head of Commercial Department, Alice Rosengren Skov, Head of Consular Affairsand Ingrid Dahl-Nielsen, Deputy Head of Mission.

Other relatively new diplomatic staff are Food Sector Expert Lene Moelsted Jensen, who started in February this year, and Charlotte Lykkegren in charge of the Visa Section, which has been expanded to include handling of visa applications from Vietnam, Cambodia, Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. This is part of the restructuring of the Danish visa application system where there have been established several Danish visa hubs globally.

Former Danish Consul in Thailand, Peter Dalberg moved over the summer to China and is now head of the visa hub for China, now centred in Guangzhou.

Since there are currently no interns working at the Danish embassy, the total staff is around 45 employees.

“It is correct to say that we are a new team, but we all come with a very solid professional toolbox,” Jon Thorgaard points out.

To be more visible for the Danish companies already established in Thailand, Jon Thorgaard is planning to hold several information meetings. He attended the Annual General Meeting of the Danish Thai Chamber of Commerce and he will have one-on-one meetings with selected companies like Pandora, FLSmidth, Maersk, Novo.

Visiting the Danes

When he is settled a bit more in the job, Jon Thorgaard plans to pay visits to some of the locations where there are particularly many Danish citizens living, like Phuket, Pattaya, Hua Hin and Chiang Mai.

“I want to meet the Danes in these locations first of all to get to know them, of course, but also to clarify what they can expect of the Danish Embassy but also clarify when it is other service providers and authorities that they should contact and not the Danish Embassy.”

“We sometimes get requests from Danish citizens for assistance with matters that are beyond what we offer. Sometimes, we can help by pointing to the relevant authority back in Denmark. But there will also be times when we can simply not help. We want to communicate and inform about our tasks and what is not,” he explains.

His trips around the country will, however, seldom include days at the kind of beach resorts which Thailand is so famous for.

“I am not good at lying on the beach and doing nothing,” he says categorically.

“I need to do something which could include actively enjoying nature but not just lying on a beach. For example my family and I visited Iceland last summer and that was a tremendous experience.”

Football fan

When relaxing after work, the Ambassador enjoys watching football. It is no coincidence that there is a colourful football at the top of a cabinet right by the entrance to his office.

The professional alibi for its prominent presence is that on 17 of the leather patches on the ball, you can read the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations. Picking up the ball, he points to the patch with the goal number 7, related to the development of green energy, of which Denmark is in charge of achieving within the UN.

He is also a big Liverpool fan and he has already spotted who else among the staff at the Embassy shares this with him – and who does not.

To keep himself in shape he enjoys going for a run in Lumpini Park during the weekend.

“Apart from that, I am a heavy consumer of political news and read everything I can find about politics both domestically, back in Denmark and globally,” he says.

Missing his family

Jon Thorgaard admits that he misses his wife, Camilla, who will keep her work in Denmark as head of division at the Danish Evaluation Institute, evaluating the Danish institutes of higher education. Camilla Thorgaard is also the Author of a book called “Bloed landing” (Soft Landing) about being stationed abroad and the challenges it is for the children and the family.

“We had hoped she could have joined the work here on a regular basis, but Covid-19 spoiled that,” he says.

When the situation permits, he is looking forward to being joined both by her and during vacations also by their two children, Rasmus, who is 22 and studying economics at Copenhagen University, and Alberte, who is still in 12th grade at Birkeroed Gymnasium.

During his first four month in Bangkok, Jon Thorgaard has been visiting many of the most famous temples and cultural places, including historical museums and art galleries.

“It serves the dual purpose of building up myself to be a good guide for my family when eventually they will be able to come and stay with me,” he says with a smile.

Ambassador for Ebeltoft

Jon Thorgaard grew up in the little town of Ebeltoft 50 kilometers northeast of Aarhus. Incidentally, this is the only city in Thailand with a museum section dedicated to Thailand. The section “Siamesisk Samling” contains the huge collection of items brought back to Denmark from Siam by the Danish adventurer Rasmus Havmoeller.

“Sometimes people tease me, asking if I am the ambassador for Denmark or for Ebeltoft,” Jon Thorgaard jokes.

During his term, Denmark and Thailand will celebrate yet another milestone in the relationship of the two countries, since it was in 1621 – 400 years ago next year – that the first recorded official visit took place by a representative of Denmark to the Kingdom of Thailand.

 

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