In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP) joined forces with other relevant agencies and held a meeting to monitor developments and introduce measures to relieve the effects on seven categories of products and services. These include (1) ready-to-eat foods, (2) rice, (3) livestock, (4) fruits, (5) raw materials for animal feed, (6) medicine and (7) logistics. In particular, DITP worked closely with the Department of Internal Trade to provide assistance to fruit growers who have been hard-hit by the virus outbreak. The meeting approved a package of relief measures covering five main areas, namely (1) the manufacturing sector, (2) the domestic market, (3) entrepreneurs’ liquidity, (4) quality and standards; and (5) overseas markets. It also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with trade operators to enable the effective distribution of harvested fruits both within Thailand and overseas. In addition, DITP collaborates with major online platforms in the Thai Fruits Golden Months’ campaign, which lasts from 1 May-30 June 2020, to sell premium fresh fruits of export quality, due to a large supply of these products during this period.
Despite the pandemic, opportunities for exports exist for a number of the Thai products, including:
Jasmine and aromatic rice: Export is forecast to rise due to increasing demand, with advance purchase orders having been placed by countries such as the United States, China, Hong Kong and Singapore;
Food products, particularly ready-to-eat foods, which see a surge in demand and orders across nearly all food categories;
Raw materials such as textile fabrics and synthetic fibers which can be exported to textile producing countries including Vietnam, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Philippines and India, to replace current sources that provide raw materials to these countries;
Medical supplies/Hygiene products such as latex gloves for the packaging industry, containers for food delivery businesses, cleaning products, etc.;
Products catering to the needs of stay-at-home lifestyle such as video game consoles, online home entertainment (games, Thai TV series, Thai movies, animations) and home workout equipment.
DITP has shifted its focus to online events. It has conducted online business matching for importers and exporters and launched TOP Thai Flagship Store to introduce Thai brands on leading international online platforms. It has also planned and/or organized virtual trade expos, including Food International Virtual Exhibitions (F.I.V.E) slated to be held four times between May and August 2020, with a focus on fresh and processed fruits, orchids, Halal food, organic food, beverages, snacks, seafood and frozen food; (2) Multimedia Online Virtual Exhibition (M.O.V.E.) for digital content entrepreneurs, held between 25 and 27 May 2020; and (3) Lifestyle Online Virtual Exhibition (L.O.V.E) for lifestyle and household products scheduled for July 2020. International buyers will be invited to attend these virtual expos and hold online business negotiations. Moreover, training sessions and seminars previously offered by the New Economy Agency (NEA) in a class format have also been transitioned to online teaching, with the help of Facebook Live and Webinar, so that businesses can access sources of knowledge easily without the need to commute.
DITP has put in place measures that will enable exports to resume as soon as the pandemic subsides. To this end, it has discussed with other relevant government agencies and private-sector entrepreneurs, and together they have come up with the following solutions. Regarding ready-to-eat foods, 10 measures have been approved, which include (1) building a positive public image to boost credibility of Thai food products in the global markets; (2) regular online meetings are to be conducted by commercial attaches and private-sector representatives to exchange information; (3) joint planning that will enable ready-to-eat and processed foods to tap into new markets (ASEAN, Middle East, Russia and CIS); (4) speeding up FTA talks with the European Union and the United Kingdom; (5) establishment of a platform online to improve distribution of agricultural produce for farmers, food processors and exporters; (6) urgently addressing issues affecting the transportation of agricultural produce and processed products by land, water and air, particularly land transportation via Vietnam and Laos to lower China and to Malaysia; (7) using contract farming to create equitable business relationships for both farmers and entrepreneurs; (8) encouraging consumption of 100% Thailand-grown fruit juices; (9) cooperating with the private sector to make use of over 600 cold storage facilities available across Thailand in extending shelf lives of agricultural produce; and (10) assigning commercial attaches to expedite talks and urgently address issues affecting the export of canned pineapples and sweet corns to Australia.
Regarding frozen and processed seafood, four measures have been approved: (1) reducing packaging costs, especially for canned products; (2) expediting FTA talks with the European Union, the United Kingdom, Africa and Eurasian countries; (3) preparing a market share expansion strategy in four markets: China, Russia, South Africa and South America; and (4) boosting a public image of Thai food products to increase consumer confidence in Thailand’s food safety standards
DITP has also made the necessary preparations for the organization of international trade expos in Thailand, including Thailand International Auto Parts & Accessories scheduled for 3 – 6 September 2020, Bangkok Gems and Jewelry Fair for 7-11 September 2020, THAIFEX – ANUGA ASIA 2020 (food products) for 22-26 September 2020 and STYLE Bangkok October 2020 (household and lifestyle products, furniture, gifts) for 21-25 October 2020.
COVID-19 has reshaped consumer behaviors across the globe, with online shopping becoming the primary option. Many entrepreneurs and retailers on online platforms have responded to this by introducing new sales strategies, targeting Chinese customers in particular. Some of the sales channels popular among Chinese consumers currently include (1) live stream; (2) information-sharing platforms such as TikTok and Xiaohongshu; and (3) social media platforms such as WeChat and Weibo. Thai products with the potential to tap into Chinese online markets include food, furniture, home accessories, movies/TV series/games, workout equipment and instructional materials for students. Another significant development was the fact that senior people, numbering over 249 million in China, the group most vulnerable to virus infection, were unable to go about their daily lives during the COVID-19 outbreak and so, while in self-quarantine, learned to use the internet, particularly for online shopping, online investment courses, and online medical consultation. Thai businesses can use this emerging opportunity to present their products and services to buyers aged over 60 in China. On Tmall Global, the biggest cross-border e-commerce platform in China, the top three best-selling products in 2020 are cosmetics and skincare products, health products and maternal and child products. Thai products in these three categories have the potential to enter into Chinese markets.
To be able to resume export as soon as the situation returns to normal, entrepreneurs should monitor developments surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak closely, in order to be in a better position to adapt to and cope with rapidly changing situations promptly. In so doing, they might also be able to turn a crisis into an opportunity for their own business. To facilitate this, DITP has made useful information available to entrepreneurs on its website, www.ditp.go.th, as well as via its application DITP Touch and its website version www.ditptouch.com. In addition, entrepreneurs should continue to enhance their marketing skills. The NEA has launched a learning platform, NEA E-Learning Universe, to enable entrepreneurs to learn from anywhere, via e-learning on the NEA website, www.nea.ditp.go.th. It offers various courses ranging from introduction to export, new-era sales and marketing, experiences from experts in various disciplines to in-depth trade insights focusing on individual countries. These courses are offered in the form of online seminar via Facebook Live and Webinar Class, to ensure easy access for entrepreneurs as well as limit in-person communications in line with the COVID-19 restrictions.