As a middle-income country with strong growth, Thailand is determined to “leap frog” in development status. The ultimate goal is its transformation into a “developed, first-world nation, capable of sustaining long-term quality growth and lasting prosperity”. To this end, the RTG has been resolute in seeking to consolidate the nation’s independent standing and to move toward net contributor status.
This ongoing transformation of development status has two major characteristics. The first is Thailand’s focus on becoming a development partner with former donor-countries, as opposed to a recipient of international aid. The 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and subsequent increase in poverty provoked a dramatic increase in aid – this has now been phased out with the International Monetary Fund closing its Thailand office in 2003. More recently, increasing bilateral trade agreements and a decline in international debt relief and financial aid (including non-appeal status following the tsunami disaster) have been strong elements of this strategy.
The second is Thailand’s desire to become a donor country itself, assisting in the development of poorer countries, both within and outside the immediate region through its “Forward Engagement” foreign policy. This outward-looking policy relies on the principle of partnership and strength from diversity, improving regional stability and competitiveness through regional and sub-regional cooperation frameworks.
Thailand is keen to share its development expertise and reach out to other countries to advance poverty reduction. Strong features of this policy have been donations to other tsunami-affected countries in the region and ongoing assistance to neighbouring countries. Thailand is a leader in a number of regional and sub-regional cooperation initiatives in areas including trade, investment and tourism. These initiatives are carried out through bodies, mechanisms and cooperatives such as the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) and the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC).
This programme is not, however, limited to the region. Thailand’s South-South cooperation policy has also led to engagement in programmes for development assistance to African countries, notably in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention.
Thailand is the only non-OECD country in the world to have produced a report on Millennium Development Goal 8: the Global Partnership for Development. This goal principally involves developed, donor countries setting targets for increased Official Development Assistance (ODA), facilitating access to goods and services from developing countries, and ensuring access for developing countries to technology and essential drugs.
International technical cooperation received from foreign donors is overseen by the Thailand International Development Cooperation Agency (TICA), established in October 2004 as the successor of the Department of Technical and Economic Cooperation (DTEC). In addition to managing technical development cooperation, TICA is also responsible for coordinating the technical assistance Thailand extends to other developing countries. In an average year, TICA administers over US$90 million worth of Thailand partnership programs and provides guidance and useful services to hundreds of projects and foreign consultants.
Thailand continues to make use of technical assistance from the bilateral community and the UN system under a variety of forms. Furthermore, its position as a regional and sub-regional development hub ensures Thailand’s direct or indirect involvement in multiple development initiatives, both as partner and as focus area.
Many donors do not have permanent programmes in Thailand, given the country’s middle-income status. However, while large-scale financial contributions continue to be reduced, donor agencies assist through targeted areas of action and cooperation. Development assistance today concentrates on specific projects and tailored programmes which take the form of partnerships and cooperation initiatives. In this way the relationship between Thailand and the international donor community has clearly evolved from the traditional donor-recipient model.
Technical cooperation from international donors predominantly takes the form of small-scale projects: technical assistance, the purchase of materials and equipment, funding of Small Grants Schemes and similar programmes. This is often executed through inter-ministerial cooperation policies in specific areas such as transport or agriculture. It can include dispatching volunteers and specialists, carrying out training projects in specific areas or providing technological expertise.
Reports from donor agencies indicate that certain focus areas have emerged which received particular attention and assistance over the 2004-2005 period. These are targeted fields in which the development community can bring some added value to Thai development.
Examples of focus areas for donor activity include:
The tsunami constituted an exception to established donor patterns without fundamentally altering these emerging trends in development cooperation. By refusing to appeal for international assistance, Thailand maintained its independent status vis-?vis donors, but also vis-?vis the international finance community that had been so decisive in the 1997 financial crisis. However, the RTG did welcome technical assistance in response to the tsunami. Development assistance was accepted both in dealing with the emergency phase as well as in implementing longer-term recovery-phase projects and policies. Tsunami-response intervention exemplifies a sudden mobilization of donor support in response to a significant event. Aid and technical assistance took the form of provision of materials and expertise, and the supply of aid or necessary goods that freed up government resources for other activities. Chapter 3 outlines the UNCT tsunami response.
A number of local and international NGOs carry out permanent and temporary programmes and projects in Thailand in a variety of areas.