Tuesday, 30 August 2016

OTOP of the World, na?

Khun Apiradee Treerutkuarkul plants some interesting ideas in the Keep Home Fires Burning article in last week’ Bangkok Post.


The fascinating OTOP development of the Mong Pae brand of Khanom Dok Jok in Ban Mok Jum Pae village in Mae Hong Son province is inspiring in and of itself. Developing a food product in a Cuisine Nation like Thailand is a Coals-To-Newcastle story of success amidst ultra-competition.

And the role of Chiang Mai University in developing the brand and marketing with the dynamic Ministry of Agriculture is interesting and must be relevant for UK-Thailand cooperation on SME’s and Education in general.

Here in UK’s East Kent the 4 universities are very active on Business Development and Cooperation with both Kent University and Canterbury Christchurch in friendly rivalry on business activity, apprentice ships and so on and working with produced in Kent one of the UK’s dynamic food promotion agencies.

The Cuisine Coast of East Kent may also be relevant for food exchanges etc - I make no excuses for citing the Surin Thai restaurant sea bass, or The Sportsman pub and its Michelin star, or my KORA Kent Oriental Restaurant Association lobbying and support group on immigration etc.

If only UK had a clear OTOP programme too: PM Prayut’s support for Roi Et jasmine rice shows a firm but dynamic grasp of developing some of Isaan’s key industries. As well as such flavoursome products as Sisaket’s mushroom crisps (chips if you learnt American English) or the Surin region in gernal and its treasure trove of silk and silver.

I’ve written previously too on the dynamic Surin Rice Research Centre so won’t tread over that ground again. Although Kent’s and Thailand’s Orchids must be ripe for collaboration, at the very least a set of Post Office stamps or Royal Mint coins or credit cards. Both UK and Thai Post Offices quietly excellent compared to say Vietnam, and the first UK-Thai Royal Mint programme on minting Thai coins underway and also relevant for Vietnam’s coinage.

I’ve written previously on the launch of the UK plastic banknotes in Kent, saving the UK Treasury over £100M in 10 years, so coinage savings would be very relevant for the Thai Treasury and Royal Mint too.

Unfortunately the OTOP range of soap and candles and preserved fruit and bananas bears no real equivalent in UK. And even on the basics of Strategic Industries, Thailand plc is far ahead of the UK with its launch earlier in the month of 2 new Future Thailand strategies.

And there is much gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair in parliament on how UK can emulate Israel’s StartUp nation approach or review the rather low Chinese investment in UK. Such concerns are likely in Future Thailand too in say rubber and sugarcane industries under the weight of HFSS and Graphene – yet massive potential in healthy eating and fruits and superfoods such as pomegranates or pineapples.

OTOP also has massive potential in the refugee camps on the Thai border and in the heroin regions of Shan – the 2nd largest amount of heroin on UK streets after the Helmand region of Afghanistan and scourge of the Golden Triangle of Frontline Kent between London and Paris and Amsterdam.

And crop adjustments and trafficking routes that Thailand and Laos are world leaders in already, as with the UNODC conference last week, that the Cocaine Cities of Latin America from Acapulco to Antofagasta could well consider the learnings.

Britain and Thailand both did well in the Rio Olympics and both could also share more Common Ground with their Paralympics and Team Refugee work.
And every piece of UK research points to jobs and profit growth via startups and innovation companies not the Same Corporate Big Boys, especially with the UK and US failing, against the more nimble German engineering excellence, in limiting the corporate welfare bloat of the arms industries.

While the OTOP Ploenchit Centre on my recent visit was inspiring in its range of products and friendly and knowledgeable staff - and unfortunately for its lack of an equivalent in UK.

The UK needs OTOP and its Japanese permutation too. It’s revealing that the London 2012 Olympics kicked off in Beijing with a London bus, but one essentially up on bricks in trade terms. Another 2012 legacy frittered away. While Japan’s Super Mario Abe hit the target with his Tech and computer games arrow as Tokyo 2020 began booting up at Rio.

Although it’s worth noting that Kent’s West Ham United (well, only 30 minutes on hispeed train to their new stadium at the 2012 site) have signed their first FIFA Soccer computer games footballer. He’s real not an avatar too.

Sure there are the full-on trade centres and expos – even the occasional Jaguar or Rolls Royce in the embassy foyer or Singha promotion in Harrods – in Thailand and UK but not that persistent and quiet dedication to lifting the economy as OTOP in Thailand does superbly.

And as with Beaujolais and France, surely Thailand should be considering its new product launches into UK each year? The 12,000 Thai restaurants actively promote Singha and Chang brands and cookery dishes so why not Khanom Dok Jok and Mong Pae and other regional flavours each year?

Won’t the ladies of Ban Mok Jum Pae exhibit and demonstrate their cookery skills in UK? Aside from the many food exhibitions UK television is awash with cookery programmes and chat shows.

Thai food is a culture and high fashion.

Dynamic retailers such as Jim Thompson or Paragon must surely further deliver on their excellent retail heritage into the UK High Street and designers? Scotland’s Vivienne Westwood, the dynamic tartan designer Siobhan Mackenzie, part of the New Celtic Fringe, would be but one of many designers ideal to work in Thai silk and UK retail.

Perhaps only one OTOP weakness is some of the cultural and language aspects: UK promotes its excellent Music is Great export strand whether with the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper 50th anniversary next year or The 1975 recently appearing in Bangkok, or more unusual chart-topping music such as Island records and Jamaican reggae and other Caribbean Commonwealth music.

None of those are particularly my cup of tea although I have to support Kent’s Beatles and their first music video in Knole Park and Magical Mystery Tour through Kent (and municipal flower clock first edition, and Almeria’s Strawberry Fields Forever).

But shouldn’t Thailand develop its Kondrum and Morlam heritage with an Islands records export drive and in-country promotion? Even lending an ASEAN hand to Cambodian, and Lao, ballet and dance through the storms of IMF LDC reversion?

And I fully understand the centralisation aspect of school curriculums and language teaching, but shouldn’t Thailand develop its Isaan Thai and Khmer languages and learning? A university study centre or two and radio or TV programming? Much as the BBC does with Welsh and Scottish Gaelic?

If Chula or Thammasat are too sniffy about it then maybe Mahidol Business Centre in BKK should stoop to conquer in the honest soil, and toil, of Isaan and its 20M loyal Thai citizens?

Thailand and OTOP and ASEAN deserve nothing less.

Tim Garbutt is a director of Sincerity advertising and PR agency opening offices in Bangkok and ASEAN, director of Surin Village School charity, the first school built in Isaan, and standing for UK Parliament for better UK and Thailand activity. He can’t read a word of Thai - yet.


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