Thailand country brief
Australia and Thailand have longstanding and deep connections. Formal diplomatic relations were established in 1952. The 65th anniversary of diplomatic relations, celebrated in 2017, was marked by a visit from then-Thai Deputy Prime Minister H.E. General Tanasak Patimapragorn and a troupe of 56 Thai dancers, who staged a traditional "Khon" masked performance and exhibition at the Sydney Opera House. Then-Foreign Minister Julie Bishop conducted a bilateral visit to Thailand in August 2017 and opened Australia's new chancery in Bangkok. In January 2019, former Foreign Minister Marise Payne visited Thailand, where she met her counterpart, H.E. Don Pramudwinai, and then-Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Justice H.E. Prajin Juntong, and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Cyber and Digital Economy.
Australia and Thailand cooperate in a broad range of areas of mutual interest, including trade and investment, defence, law enforcement, counter-terrorism, education, agriculture, migration and tourism. Senior Officials' Talks are held on a regular basis, most recently on 2 September 2020. The bilateral relationship is supported by mutual membership of international and regional organisations.
Reflecting the extensive cooperation between Australia and Thailand, on 13 November 2020 Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha signed a Joint Declaration elevating the Australia-Thailand bilateral relationship to a Strategic Partnership. The Strategic Partnership builds on the Agreement on Bilateral Cooperation, which entered into force on 27 July 2005, and provides scope to broaden and deepen cooperation across the breadth of the relationship.
Australia was proud to play an important role in providing expertise and support to the Thai-led rescue effort of the Wild Boar junior soccer team in Tham Luang Nang Non Cave, Chiang Rai in July 2018. The operation was a remarkable demonstration of international cooperation and a symbol of unity in the region.
Our strong bilateral relations are reflected in extensive people-to-people links. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Thailand attracted large numbers of Australians for tourism and business – pre-pandemic, approximately 800,000 Australians visited Thailand each year. At the East Asia Summit in Bangkok in November 2019, Prime Minister Morrison announced a bilateral increase from 500 to 2,000 places for the Work and Holiday visa program.
There are currently over 160 agreements between 34 Australian and approximately 50 Thai universities across a range of academic and research collaboration efforts. Over 1,900 Australians have studied in Thailand under the New Colombo Plan since its inception in 2014.
Australia has a long association with the Thai Royal Family. His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit visited Australia in 1962. Then-Thai Crown Prince and current King, His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn, studied at secondary school and military college in Australia, subsequently completing training with the Australian Army's Special Air Service Regiment in Perth. In 2019, Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn and Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn visited Australia.
Security and counter-terrorism cooperation
Regional stability is a key area of mutual interest. Thailand was one of the first countries with which Australia concluded a bilateral MOU on Counter-Terrorism, in October 2002. This was followed by MOUs on police cooperation (June 2003), mutual assistance in customs matters (December 2003) and money-laundering (June 2004), and a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (July 2006). We undertake regular high-level dialogues on regional security, including the inaugural Australia-Thailand Counter-Terrorism Consultations held in August 2019. Thailand has participated in two Regional Counter-Terrorism Financing (CTF) Summits co-hosted by Australia and Indonesia in Sydney (November 2015) and Bali (August 2016), and hosted the 4th CTF Summit in November 2018.
Thailand is a key player with Australia in efforts to strengthen regional cooperation against people smuggling and human trafficking, and has extradited accused people smugglers to stand trial in Australia in recent years. Thailand hosts the Regional Support Office for the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime. The Office supports and strengthens practical cooperation on refugee protection and international migration. In 2018, Thailand was upgraded to Tier 2 on the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report for its efforts to address human trafficking. Under the auspices of Taskforce Storm, the Australian Federal Police and Thai law enforcement agencies work together to disrupt narcotics trafficking and transnational organised crime.
In November 2003, the Thai Government announced Thailand would move from being an aid recipient to an aid donor. Thailand's overseas aid program is focused on technical cooperation and training. A number of regional Australian development assistance programs, including in human trafficking, labour rights, health, disaster management and economic integration, continue to include Thailand. Australia also provides some support to Thailand as part of efforts to strengthen the capacity of regional organisations such as ASEAN and APEC. In 2019, Australia became a Joint Development Partner to the Thai-led Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) to assist with development needs in the Mekong subregion. Australia is also working closely with Thailand to implement the Mekong-Australia Partnership, announced by Prime Minister Morrison in November 2020.
Trade and investment
Australia and Thailand enjoy a substantial commercial relationship, underpinned by the Thailand-Australia Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA). Two-way trade in goods and services in 2019-20 was worth $21.6 billion, making Thailand Australia’s 3rd largest trading partner among Southeast Asian countries and 11th largest overall. Since TAFTA’s entry into force on 1 January 2005, trade in goods has more than doubled. Australia's key goods exports to Thailand include natural gas, crude petroleum and coal. Thailand's key exports to Australia are passenger and goods vehicles. Over 3,000 Australian companies export to Thailand and around 300 maintain a physical presence in the country. Thai investment in Australia has grown significantly, from $294 million in 2006 to $8.6 billion in 2019, including in the agriculture, energy and hospitality sectors. Australian investment in Thailand was valued at $4.7 billion in 2019.
Australia and Thailand are parties to the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA), which entered into force on 1 January 2010. On 15 November 2020, Australia and Thailand joined 13 other countries in signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) after eight years of negotiations. Once it enters into force, RCEP will be the world’s largest free trade agreement, accounting for almost one-third of the world’s population and economic output.
For further information on doing business in Thailand, TAFTA as well as Australia's trade and investment relationship with ASEAN: