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Ford, Unilever Still Upbeat on Thailand Despite Uncertainty

CNBC.com
Tuesday, 21 Sep 2010 | 1:47 AM ET

Thailand's political turmoil earlier this year may have taken a toll on investor confidence, but businesses have remained upbeat about its economic prospects.

According to the latest survey by the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Thailand, U.S. companies based in the country are expanding their businesses as a result of increased profitability.

US Upbeat About Thailand's Economic Prospect
U.S. companies are optimistic about Thailand's economic performance, says Joseph Geagea, president of AmCham Thailand. He sheds light on its domestic consumption potential and tells CNBC's Martin Soong about the segments that are good investment opportunities.

"(Thailand's) endowed with natural resources, skilled labor force. It's a friendly place to do business. Why wouldn't you be here?" said AmCham President Joseph Geagea.

"Various segments in this economy are really prospering and Americans are really taking advantage of that...whether it's in the tourism industry, whether it's in the export industry, whether it's logistics or transportation," he added.

One sector that's continued to enjoy robust growth in recent years is the automobile sector. Ford Motor's ASEAN President Peter Fleet said there's still huge demand for vehicles in the country, which has the second largest pick-up truck market after the U.S., and been dubbed as the "Detroit of South East Asia".

Asean Has Strong Potential for Automakers: Ford
Peter Fleet, ASEAN president at Ford Motors, says Thailand's auto industry is an export-led story and he sees exciting growth opportunities for the sector. He talks to CNBC's Martin Soong.

"When you look at long term fundamentals in Thailand and ASEAN region, there is just huge opportunity," said Fleet. "Remember the population in ASEAN of driving age is one and a half times that in the U.S. so the future potential is really strong."

The U.S. firm last month announced a further $350 million expansion of its factory in south of Bangkok with partner Mazda, following its June announcement of building a compact car factory worth $450 million.

Another U.S. heavyweight which has continued to invest in Thailand is consumer products giant Unilever. The firm said its Thailand operations have suffered little impact from the rising costs of raw materials because of the strengthening baht and the recent political unrest has not deterred its positive outlook for the market.

Baht, Innovation Help Reduce Cost Burden: Unilever
Domestic consumption in Thailand is picking up pace, observes Bauke Rouwers, chairman of Unilever Thai Group of Companies. He tells CNBC's Martin Soong, that the strengthening baht and innovation are helping the group to trim input costs and cope with rising commodity prices.

"2010 looks like record year for us in recent history. There is a lot of talk of political unrest... to our business though, very little impact," said Bauke Rouwers, Chairman of
Unilever Thailand.

Geagea said it helps that American businesses have had a long trading history with Thailand, and such "bumps on the road" were "no exception" to what they've seen in the past, he added.

"The key point is for these protests ... to occur in a friendly manner and a peaceful manner and for people to resolve their differences within the political and the legal institutions of the country. If they do that, Thailand will continue to prosper," Geagea noted.

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