There’s a ball of infectious and contagious energy headed your way from the 15th floor of the Abdulrahim Place in the form of one Sanjeev Chowdhury, the Embassy’s new Counsellor (Commercial) and Senior Trade Commissioner.

This is Sanjeev’s first time here as a resident of Thailand, not as a visitor, and he says it’s even better than he expected. “When I was stationed in Ho Chi Minh as Consul General from 2003-2006, I would travel to Bangkok regularly,” he recalls. “I remember Siam Paragon opening and it was a big deal just to travel here and go to the movies as we didn’t have any English language films in Vietnam back then. Every movie was dubbed in Vietnamese. I was here so often that I actually met then Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawtra at the Starbucks in Siam Paragon. I remember saying to myself that if I could end my career anywhere my dream would be to be posted to Thailand.”

In 2003, at age 34, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien appointed Sanjeev Consul General of Canada to Ho Chi Minh City; he was our youngest Consul General at that time and the first Indo-Canadian Head of Mission for Canada. In 2006, he returned to work in Ottawa for five years, but in 2011, then Canadian PM Stephen Harper appointed him Consul General of Canada to Rio de Janeiro. As his regular three-year term was about to expire in 2014, he applied for a one-year extension, but the Foreign Minister at the time, John Baird, contacted Sanjeev and told him because of the upcoming Rio Olympics in 2016, Ottawa would prefer he stayed for two more years. As such, he was the first Canadian Head of Mission to be given a two-year extension at once. A slight hitch developed when it was discovered that the Foreign Minister didn’t actually have the authority to give two-year extensions, so Stephen Harper stepped in and authorized the move. As a result, Sanjeev was able to represent Canada at both the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Rio Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. He then returned to Canada with no intention of leaving home again. But two years later, the Senior Trade Commissioner’s position came open in Thailand and it was just too good of an opportunity to pass up. He jumped at working at his second favourite country in the world (after Canada of course). Sanjeev says he is having the time of his life: “I love coming to work every morning.”

Sanjeev inherited a very successful team; it is considered to be one of the top-performing trade teams in the world and Sanjeev wants to build on that success. All trade commissioners are annually judged on their key performance indicators (KPIs), and for Canada, there are three key measurements: a) services provided to Canadian companies b) outcalls made to Thai companies; and c) successes. And these are all entered into a database monthly and at the end of the year, each trade commissioner is evaluated on how many services they provided, how many outcalls they made and how many successes they had. Globally, Bangkok ranks in the top five Canadian diplomatic offices for successes in the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS), a remarkable feat for an office of only 10 trade staff.

Sanjeev credits his recent predecessors Yvonne Chin (“great eye for talent and building a cohesive team”) and his immediate predecessor, Michel Bélanger, for laying the foundation to track KPIs and implementing the system that has made the trade team thrive. Sanjeev now sees his role as being here to help them achieve their objectives and says his team is eager to help and support CanCham Thailand in any way it can.

Scott Murray recently held a roundtable discussion with all the trade commissioners at the Canadian Embassy to learn about their roles and what’s trending in their sectors.

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Asked how Sanjeev’s presence has affected the team, Gabriel Laflamme, the Second Secretary (Commercial) Trade Commissioner focusing on Aerospace, Defence and Security said, “He has forced us to be a bit more daring, to take more risks. We know we are good, but now we are thinking outside the box. And I like that. I like a manager who lets us express ourselves and push our boundaries. ”

Mr. Pisite Chaiwattanachai, Trade Commissioner for Information and Communications Technologies, started off by saying he was focused on three key areas: telecommunications, IT hard and software, and the gaming industry. Canada, he noted, is the third-largest producer of video games in the world, following Japan and the US. Khun Pisite says there is huge potential for the gaming industry in the young adult Thai market, as many have money to spend on gaming and its accessories and are willing to spend it.

Next up was Nitchawan Sriviboone, the Trade Commissioner who covers education, consumer products, and life sciences. When it comes to education, she said her main responsibilities are two-fold: first to recruit Thai students to study in Canada and second to build collaboration between Canadian and Thai institutions. Khun Nitchawan says more and more Thai parents are considering Canada as a study destination for their children as evidenced by the growing interest in Success Canada, an education fair staged by CanCham board member Art Chanovan.

Sanjeev chimed in here saying “the growing interest has been spurred by a favorable exchange rate and that Thai parents see Canada as a safe and friendly destination. Many siblings will stay with the same host family that their older brother and sister did, and they regard those host families as second homes. Thai parents also find the Canadian accent easy to understand and the quality of teaching is very high. Their children feel very welcome in Canada”.
Khun Nitchawan said, “I just returned from Vancouver and I had a chance to visit a number of Canadian companies in the Life Sciences sector. Some are focusing on integrating AI into medical devices. Health IT is another important sub-sector which many Canadian companies have developed, and they have started seeking local partners in international markets, including Thailand.”

NexT up was Ms. Dolrawee Akarakupt, the Trade Commissioner for Clean Technologies, Mining, Oil, and Gas. She stressed how important it was that the trade commissioners do their homework and keep in touch with their Canadian colleagues. She frequently travels to foreign trade shows such as GLOBE, held in Vancouver every other year, to see the latest clean technology on display. She also visits the Singapore International Water Week and IFAT in Germany, where there is a Canadian pavilion. She brings prospective buyers of Canadian technology with her on these trips. She makes outcalls with local contacts to see what they need, what’s trending and she is constantly expanding her knowledge so she knows what’s on the shelf and what Canadian companies have to offer in fields such as wastewater treatment and renewable energy. She is currently working on a success story close to home following the progress of a Canadian inventor in the waste management field who will most likely partner with a CanCham member to undertake a trial in Thailand.

Surin Thanalertkul, Trade Commissioner for Agriculture and Processed Foods, Fish and Seafood, Wine, Beer, and Spirits spoke next. By the way, Surin has been with the Embassy for two decades. He said that Thailand has a very large and diverse food processing industry as well as a large livestock industry noting there are good opportunities for Canadian companies in the field of feed and live swine genetics (frozen semen). And more and more high-end shopping malls are opening and their supermarkets carry specialty items that Canadian companies manufacture. Crustaceans, including lobster, are Canada’s sixth-biggest export to Thailand. And Frito Lay Thailand has been buying a lot of chip stock and seed potatoes from Prince Edward Island. Surin plays a pivotal role in organizing the “Taste of Canada” annual Canadian food fair, held in August at the Mall’s high-end supermarkets.

When it comes to food processing, he says there are lots of opportunities for Canadian products such as wheat, flaxseed, and soybeans. Lactasoy, Thailand’s biggest soy milk supplier, recently traveled to Canada to meet three suppliers and imports much of its soybeans from Canada (by the way, two Tim Hortons restaurants will be opening in Bangkok at the beginning of 2020, the first in Samyan Mitrtown and the second in Abdulrahim Place itself, location of the Canadian Embassy).

Mr. Gabriel Laflamme, Second Secretary (Commercial) Trade Commissioner Aerospace, Defence and Security; a rising star in the diplomatic field, he’s the number one performer in the defense & security field, number three in aerospace. In fact, many of the embassy’s trade commissioners are in the top ten in their fields. For example, Khun Surin, Khun Pisite, and Khun Dolrawee all scored in the top ten in their sectors of responsibility this past year.

“It’s difficult to sell aircraft, it takes time. I may start something and my successor might finish it. But where Canada is making a difference in the aerospace industry is in servicing, taking care of the engines we sell, providing spare parts and training the staff who services the machinery, by bringing them to Canada, training and certifying them,” says Gabriel. “We also have huge potential to help in the field of AI. Our services are mostly for SMEs. These small companies with disruptive technologies need our help and we are providing that. We open the door for them, try to learn about their products, walk them through the process, and help them promote themselves here.”

When it came to defense, Gabriel did not want to be specific but said that Canadian subsidiaries of Bell Helicopters and Pratt and Whitney are active here and Canadian firms are helping to service Thai military aircraft.

Mr. Ekasit Chunlakittiphan, Trade Commissioner for Financial and Insurance Services, Forestry and Wood Products, Infrastructure, & Transportation finished off the discussion. Ekasit stressed that it was very important that the Trade Commissioner’s office fully understand the Canadian companies they are representing in Thailand. “We are carrying the Canadian flag, and we have to make sure we are vouching for legitimate and high-quality products and companies. Screening is very important,” he says. “From toothpicks to battleships, the level of Thai partners that we are dealing with is very high and we are dealing with upper management and ministry officials, so we must know what we are talking about.”

Ekasit is dealing with mega-city and smart city projects and focusing on public-private partnerships (P3), where Canadians have a lot of experience, having completed hundreds of such projects over the years. He says Thailand needs help in wastewater treatment, schooling, hospitals and healthcare but doesn’t have the budget to finance them, and that’s where P3 comes into play.

Sanjeev says the TCS needs to make sure a Canadian company in question has quality products it can introduce to a Thai partner and that one of Ekasit’s strengths is “asking tough questions to companies we don’t know in order to quickly determine their abilities.”
Summing up, Sanjeev says, “At the embassy, we have the ability to convene and bring people together, troubleshoot and problem solve, and we can even introduce Canadian companies and their products to Thai government officials.”

“But it’s important to note that Canadian staff have to learn from the experienced local staff in the embassy. When I first arrived, I said I wanted to meet first with Khun Pat (Ms. Patarawan Dechaboonako), who has been with the Trade Commissioner’s Office for 29 years. I can’t waltz into a meeting and pretend I know more than a commissioner who has been here for decades, I have to lean on them for their expertise, they do all the notes, the talking points, and I add the Canadian angle.”
In essence, the Trade Commissioner Service is a matchmaking service that helps to create and foster successful relationships. The Canadian Embassy in Thailand is ranked in the top in the world in terms of success stories. They are an all-star team, and we should be very proud of them. Sanjeev is doing a great job managing them and working closely with Cancham. He and his team will continue to do so to further enhance the services offered to Canadian businesses located and/or interested in this exciting market.

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In attendance for this roundtable discussion (group photo near the top of the page) was Mr. Sanjeev Chowdhury; Counsellor (Commercial) and Senior Trade Commissioner, second right, middle row; Mr. Gabriel Laflamme, Second Secretary (Commercial), first left, last row, Trade Commissioner for Aerospace, Defence and Security; Mr. Surin Thanalertkul, Trade Commissioner for Agriculture and Processed Foods, Fish and Seafood, Wine, Beer and Spirits; Mr. Ekasit Chunlakittiphan, Trade Commissioner for Financial and Insurance Services, Forestry and Wood Products, Infrastructure, Transportation; Mr. Pisite Chaiwattanachai, Trade Commissioner for Information and Communications Technologies, Ocean Technologies; Ms. Dolrawee Akarakupt, Trade Commissioner for Clean Technologies, Mining, Oil and Gas; Ms. Nitchawan Sriviboone, Trade Commissioner for Consumer Products, Education, Life Sciences; Ms. Patarawan Dechaboonako & Ms. Supaluk Ashley Plongisuan, Trade Commissioner Assistants. Absent: Ms. Niparat Pornruangsap, Trade Commissioner Assistant.

 

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