New Irish Ambassador aims to boost already strong links with Thailand
When His Excellency Joseph Anthony (Tony) Cotter learned he had been picked as Ireland’s Ambassador in Thailand, he and wife Marie saw it as a great opportunity to live and represent Ireland in a country they had vacationed in many times. The Cotters arrived in Bangkok last August and already feel very much at home.
We have been made to feel very welcome in Thailand by many new Thai friends, the Irish community here, and also friends and colleagues in the diplomatic community,” said the ambassador. “We are very much looking forward to the next few years of living in Thailand. We have great respect for the Thai people and everything Thai and hope that we can contribute positively to the further strengthening of the already longstanding positive and very friendly relations between our two countries.”
Our interview with Mr Cotter took place with Marie sitting beside him at their residence, just a two-minute walk from the Irish embassy on Wireless Road.
“I am originally from County Cork in Ireland. Marie hails from Limerick, the home of Irish rugby. Marie and I have been together for over 33 years. I have learned that the easiest way for a happy married life is to say yes…and to say it quickly! We have one daughter, Aisling. She got married in beautiful Ravello in May this year. She and husband Dave are currently living in Sydney, but are moving to Singapore in January. This is good news as it gets them closer to us here in Bangkok.
“It is always a great honour to be asked to represent your country as ambassador, and I am particularly pleased to have been nominated by my government to serve as ambassador to Thailand (also accredited to Myanmar). Thailand is a country that Marie and I have gotten to know very well over the past 15 years or so.
“I served most recently as Ireland’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia (also accredited to Bahrain, Iraq, Oman and Yemen) and before that was ambassador to Zambia (also accredited to Namibia).”
Ireland getting high marks
“Ireland is in my opinion probably the best country in the world, but don’t just take my word for it. There is a lot of evidence to back me up. Ireland is consistently ranked as one of the top five tourism destinations in the world. With a population of 4.7 million and a median age of just 37.2 years, we are a young country. And our population is expanding, unlike other countries in Europe. We expect to have another million people living in Ireland by 2040.
“We had a challenging time during the last global economic downturn. However, we have now turned the corner and thankfully Ireland’s economy continues to grow strongly. It has in fact been the fastest growing economy in the EU over the past two years, with unemployment down from a peak of 16% in early 2012 to 5.8% as of May 2018. There are now almost 2.3 million people at work, more than at any point in our history. The GDP rose by 5.1% in 2016 and by almost 7.8% in 2017. The Department of Finance is forecasting real GDP growth of 5.6% in 2018 and 4% in 2019.
“EU membership has been central to the success of our open, competitive economy. It has been the cornerstone of social progress in Ireland over the last generation. Public support for EU membership is very high; 92% of the population is in the ‘remain’ camp. Ireland will therefore continue to be a core member of the EU single market and the Eurozone.
“Any visitor to Ireland is guaranteed to receive a genuinely warm welcome, as promised by the slogan ‘Céad Míle Fáilte’ or One Hundred Thousand Welcomes. There is so much for tourists to do and see. One of the most exciting developments of recent years is the Wild Atlantic Way – a 2,500 kilometer coastal drive along Ireland’s western seaboard that offers visitors an opportunity to connect with friendly, welcoming people in towns and villages along the way. It’s a great way to experience our heritage and culture, and also enjoy our great locally-grown, fresh food and freshly caught seafood.
“The recently released movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens features stunning scenes shot on Skellig Michael off the County Kerry coast. Much of Game of Thrones is filmed in Northern Ireland.
“You can also go to Ireland’s Ancient East to experience 5,000 years of Irish and European history. Here there are so many places filled with legend and lore – from castles, monasteries and round towers, to emigrant ships – all in an area brimming with culture, festivals and fun.”
Marie and I arrived in Thailand for the first time about 15 years ago. We used to holiday here sometimes two and three times a year. We just find the country very warm and friendly. Thais are exceptionally welcoming – almost as welcoming as the Irish. I arrived in Bangkok on August 1, 2018 to take up duty as ambassador. I hope that I will have the honour soon to formally present my Letters of Credentials to His Majesty, King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun. I am hopeful my term of office will consist of four good, positive and rewarding years in Thailand.
“It is a distinct advantage for an incoming ambassador to have a supportive and well-organised group of expats on hand. That describes the Irish community here in Thailand, and I am particularly fortunate in this regard. There is an active Irish community centred mainly in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai. The main Irish community organisations are the St Patrick’s Society of Bangkok, the Irish-Thai Chamber of Commerce (ITCC), Thailand GAA, Irish Women’s Group and the Irish Society of Pattaya. The ITCC recently hosted the Asia Pacific Ireland Business Forum, which brings together Irish business men and women in Asia, Asians doing business in Ireland or with Irish firms, and people from all sorts of government departments and agencies across the region. Thailand GAA successfully hosted the Fexco GAA Asian Games in Bangkok in November 2017, and again in November 2018. Each of these events brought in over 1,000 players, mentors and supporters travelling from across the region.”
“I wish to further strengthen the already longstanding positive and friendly relations between our two countries. A particular priority is to raise the profile of Ireland here in Thailand. Many people here have not heard much about Ireland, or aren’t even sure where it is located. Hence, I very much welcome the opportunity to do this interview.
“In fact, Ireland already has a strong presence here. Nearly 300 Irish companies are exporting to the ASEAN region in key sectors such as aviation and travel technologies, education, industrial products, digital technologies, healthcare, and Fintech.
“I believe there is significant potential to increase trade and commerce between Ireland and Thailand in many sectors, including international education. All of Ireland’s universities are ranked in the top 5% globally and in many fields of research, Ireland ranks in the top 1%. An independent survey ranked Ireland No.1 in the EU for international student satisfaction in both 2015 and 2016. To make the country even more attractive to international students, we’ve extended the ‘stay-back option’ for non-EU/EEA students at postgraduate and PhD level to two years for eligible graduates.
“Ireland is a safe and friendly place for international students. Half of foreign undergraduate entrants are female. The number of Thai students studying in Ireland has increased threefold in just the last three years, from 40 to120 last year. We hope to grow these numbers further as Ireland continues to become better known here as a world class destination for study.
“Another area of special focus is international financial services (IFS). Ireland is recognised globally as a centre for specialist IFS firms. We are home to over 400 IFS companies, including over 200 foreign-owned and another 200 indigenous companies. The sector provides more than 42,000 jobs throughout the country.
“Ireland leads the world in hedge fund administration. Over four trillion Euros in assets are under administration with over 13,000 funds and promoters from 50 countries. Seventeen of the top 20 global banks have a presence in Ireland, and half of the top 20 insurance companies have offices in Ireland as well. Ireland is now a thriving centre for research and innovation in financial technology, and is the perfect place for companies to source their Fintech solutions.
“Ireland is a centre of excellence for the air finance and leasing sector. Fourteen of the world’s 15 largest leasing companies having a presence in Ireland, and latest figures indicate that approximately 4,300 leased commercial aircraft – over 60% of the total worldwide are owned or managed from Ireland. The estimated cumulative value of these aircraft is US$125 billion.
“Aircraft maintenance and manufacturing facilities are located across the country, with clusters in Dublin and Shannon providing a wide range of services including, but not limited to, design, production, testing and avionics. Factor in the manufacture and supply of equipment and components, as well as the provision of an array of expertise in consultancy, training, software development and validation, human resources and maintenance services.
“The Agri-food sector is Ireland’s largest indigenous industry, with food and drink exports to over 180 markets around the world, reaching a record value of 12.6 billion Euros in 2017. Almost one third of these exports were to non-EU markets.
“Finally, in the area of foreign direct investment, Ireland is an excellent location for any Thai company wishing to expand into Europe. Currently over 1,300 foreign-headquartered companies have significant operations in Ireland, employing more than 200,000 people. These are some of the world’s most recognisable and innovative companies, for example 13 of the top 15 global medical technology companies including Abbott, Allergan, Boston Scientific, Medtronic, MSD and Stryker.
“All of the top 10 pharma companies, which include Novartis, Cook Medical, Pfizer, Merck, Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson, have a strong presence in Ireland. What’s more, 16 of the top 20 global software companies, including Microsoft, Oracle, Dell, SAP, Telefonica, HP, Intel and IBM, have major operations in Ireland. We are an established internet hub, hosting leading companies including Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, eBay, Twitter, LinkedIn, AOL, PayPal and Yahoo.
“Twenty of the top 25 financial services firms including J.P. Morgan, Barclays, Citi, Credit Suisse, Fidelity, AON, MasterCard, Deutsche Bank and Zurich, have bases in Ireland.”
Here is why Thai companies planning expansion into Europe should take a look at Ireland and consider joining the many multinational players already there. In the first place, the government encourages a strong pro-business environment. We have an open economy with a stable 12.5% corporate tax rate. We are a committed member of the EU, with barrier-free access to 500 million consumers. Ireland is the only country in the Euro Zone in which English is the official language.
“Ireland is ranked the 17th easiest country in the world in which to do business (World Bank ‘Doing Business 2018’) and is ranked first globally for inward investment by quality and value (IMB Global Location Trends 2017).
“Secondly, the talents and skills of our workforce make Ireland an attractive place for Thai companies. One third of our population is under 25, the youngest in the EU. We also have a highly educated workforce; 52% of 25-34 year olds have a third level qualification – higher than any other EU country. Our education system ranks in the top ten in the world and we have the highest proportion of science, maths and computing graduates in the OECD.
“Our workforce is highly competitive. The 2016 IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook ranked our workforce the third most productive in the world, first in flexibility and adaptability, and also first in terms of national culture open to foreign ideas.
“Ireland has a long history of scientific achievement and advancement, and today the government provides strong incentives for research and development. To promote innovation, the Irish government encourages companies to undertake research by offering a substantial 25% tax credit against R&D costs. Ireland is ranked 11th globally for overall scientific research quality (November 2017 Thomson Reuters/Clarivate InCites), with R&D spending of €1.4 billion annually.
“Increasingly, Ireland is attracting companies from the Asia Pacific region who desire a cost-effective base to do business in Europe. Asia Pacific giants such as Huawei, Tata, InfoSys, Lenovo, SMBC, Trend Micro, Bank of China and Indorama from Thailand have all established a presence in Ireland.”
“The first major Irish connection to Thailand dates back to when a young Irish medical doctor, Arthur Francis George Kerr, arrived here in 1902. The doctor devoted his life to making a survey of Thai botanical species and is internationally known as the founding father of botany in Thailand.
“Ireland and Thailand began diplomatic relations over 43 years ago in 1975. Since then business links between our two countries have steadily developed, and trade both ways amounts to €500 million per year.
“We opened our embassy in Bangkok in 2015 to mark 40 years of diplomatic relations. This signaled a significant shift in the strength and depth of the relationship, and is a clear indication of our strong desire to enhance every aspect of our bilateral relations. Since its opening the embassy has expanded from two diplomats and four local staff to three diplomats and seven local staff in 2018. This partially reflects the growing demand for consular assistance and services for Irish citizens.
“There are several Irish companies operating in Thailand. Kerry Ingredients and Carbery foods both have high-tech factories in Bangkok. They supply Thai food exporters and major regional food operations. Kerry also imports large volumes of Thai chicken into Europe. Other Irish firms in Thailand include Labscan, which produces chemicals for laboratories, and Wisetek, which undertakes large scale re-processing of computer parts. Irishman Liam O’Keeffe (1945-2012) established PCS in Thailand, which employs over 23,000 persons in property management and cleaning.
“Thai companies have started to invest in Ireland in recent years. In 2011 the Indorama group acquired Wellman International which owns a fibre production facility in Co. Cavan. In 2010 Thai Union Frozen Products acquired French seafood producer MW Brands, which has significant operations in Ireland associated with the John West Brand. One Irish golf course has been purchased by a Thai investor.
“Ireland exports a wide range of goods to Thailand across a number of categories. These include essential oils, perfume materials, medical products, pharmaceutical products, photographic apparatus and optical goods, along with many other products and goods.
“Thailand exports more than twice as much to Ireland compared to what Ireland exports to Thailand. The main exports from Thailand are office and automatic data processing machines, electrical machinery, telecommunications and sound equipment as well as meats and prepared meats.
“As I have said, the number of Thai students in Ireland has increased steadily in recent years. A memorandum of understanding on Education Cooperation was signed by our two governments in February 2015, and a double taxation agreement was signed in November 2013.
“Our President, Mary McAleese, made a state visit to Thailand in 2002, and John Halligan, Minister of State for Education, came here in November 2017. Most recently Ciarán Cannon, our Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development, visited here last month.
“In recent years we have seen several high-level visits to Ireland from the Thai side, including most notably by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn in 2014. The Princess was most warmly received by our president and the Irish people. In 2018 Deputy Prime Minister H.E. Wissanu Krea-Ngam and Minister for Education H.E. Teerakiat Jareonsettasin made official visits to Ireland.
“Over 67,000 Irish tourists visited Thailand last year. This country has an excellent reputation in Ireland as a ‘paradise’ destination. Many Irish newlyweds travel to Thailand for their honeymoon, and it is also considered a superb choice for a relaxing family get-away. Many of our young people also enjoying coming to Thailand for a once-in-a-lifetime backpacking adventure.
“On the other side, Thai tourism to Ireland is increasing yearly as Ireland becomes more well-known here. It’s expected there will be a little less than 1,000 Thai tourists traveling to Ireland in 2018, so Ireland is still a rather exclusive and exotic destination for Thai travelers. There are between 3,000 - 5,000 Irish citizens living in Thailand. In Ireland, we have a Thai community numbering almost 3000.”
At the close of the interview the ambassador gave a glimpse of his private life: “In my spare time I like reading, playing golf, horseracing and other sports generally. We are hopefully looking forward to another outstanding performance by the Irish Rugby team in the World Cup in Japan in 2019.”
Date of Birth: May 25, 1957.
Married with one daughter.
• Ambassador to Thailand (also accredited to Myanmar), since August 2018.
• Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (also accredited to Bahrain, Iraq, Oman and Yemen) from 2014 to 2018.
• Ambassador to Zambia (also accredited to Namibia) from 2009 to 2012.
• Director of Multilateral Section in the Development Cooperation Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and
Trade responsible for relations with the United Nations, the European Union, World Bank and other international institutions from 2012 to 2014.
• Director of Civil Society Section in the Development Cooperation Division from 2006 to 2009.
• Prior to joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr. Cotter served as a senior official in a number of government ministries and agencies including the Ministry for Justice (Minister’s Policy Adviser), Ministry of Arts, Sport and Tourism (Minister’s Policy Adviser), Ministry of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Director), the Permanent Representation of Ireland to the EU, Brussels (Head of Justice & Home Affairs Division) and the Legal Aid Board (Assistant Chief Executive).