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Weathering the Storm of the Seventies

The 1970's was a decade of upheaval for Thailand, both economically and politically, and brought about many social and industrial changes. Following a bad rice harvest in 1972 coupled with an over export of what rice there was, the consequent rice shortage was one of the causes of the great dissatisfaction amongst the people early in the decade which, along with a rapid rise in the cost of living and resentment over the ever-increasing arrogance of officialdom, culminated in 1973 in the coup d'Etat. Three years of difficult and at times anarchic democratic strikes and militant posturing by a newly-empowered workforce meeting a management unused to industrial action and negotiation. Throughout this decade the Chamber was quietly growing in stature and relevance in the commercial community. During the industrial troubles following the '73 uprising, companies found it beneficial to talk to each other (for the first time) about labour relations and comparative remuneration packages in order to gain a more united front when confronting an equally inexperienced union negotiating team, and the Chamber became a focus for this exchange of information. This openness regarding remuneration also provided a boost for the Chamber's Cost of Living Surveys, which could be made more accurate with the wider data. Indeed, it was during this time that the whole basis of establishing the survey was completely revised to reflect changing lifestyles. This service has now become the yardstick by which virtually the entire expatriate community assesses the annual increase in costs of living.

The expat cost of living budget has always been generous and the holiday list has a welcome reflection of the British approach to long weekends. - Carsten Dencker Nielsen (Committee member 1977-86)

The Chamber also acted as one of the key players in putting forward the interests of foreign companies to the Government with regard to the Alien Business Law in 1972, which was restrictive and could threaten foreign investment in the long run. At first, representations had been made through the Board of Trade of Thailand, but after a year and a half it was explained that the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the majority presence on the BOT, stood to gain considerably from the new Law and therefore a recommendation of the British Chamber's views from them would be unlikely. As a result of this, the first direct approach by a foreign trade association to Government was made, when the British Chamber briefed the Finance Minister on the potential impact of the law. The approach may have achieved little relating to the Law but it did open a new channel to government by which the voice of foreign companies could be heard.

When I first became Chairman in 1972, the Chamber was an entirely incestuous situation with no advice given to members except the cost of living index. By my second Chairmanship in 1979, Thailand had settled down considerably and the Chamber had started to expand its services. - Nigel Overy

Having started the decade with the tragedy of the sudden demise of Charles Dibbs, the Secretary, on New Years Day 1970 (ably replaced by his brother Freddie), the Chamber went from strength to strength over the decade. In 1973 standing sub-committees were established in order to provide a consistent supply of information regarding vital sectors of the Thai economy; these listed Finance and Taxation, Shipping, Aviation, Personnel and Labour Relations, Insurance and Chamber Functions.

The modern British Chamber is unrecognisable from the early '70s; the range and scope of activities is vast. I could not have conceived that the Chamber would advance so far and fast and earn such an enviable reputation in a highly competitive society. - Nigel Overy

The purpose of the latter was to relieve the Chairman of all the responsibility of running the Chamber and providing new services or organizing new events. This sub-committee was abolished on the appointment in 1977 of an Executive Director, Mrs. Bobbie Lawson, when the burden of such organization became too great for the volunteer Committee members.

Not counting my arrival, 1977 was an important year for the Chamber as it was the year Bobbie Lawson was appointed Executive Director. It took me some time to remember her correct title - I kept calling her "Secretary" - but I hope she has forgiven me by now. 1977 was also the year that the Chamber published its first handbook and some may remember the flags - the Union Jack was coloured conversely and no one noticed! - Carsten Dencker Nielsen

Ties between the Chamber and the British Embassy became closer during the mid'70s, although more by accident than on purpose. The Chamber was invited to comment on the Embassy's Commercial Section, the result of which was a rather scathing report on the total lack of promotion of Thai trade to Britain. Unfortunately, the report was sent directly to the Ambassador, Sir David Cole, without editing by the then Chairman, Michael Perry. For this, Michael and Nigel Overy, the compiler of the report, were roundly berated by the Ambassador, as Foreign Office policy explicitly stated that the single aim for the Embassy was to promote UK exports abroad only, From that point on, the Chamber took on the complimentary role of promoting Thai trade with Britain, and it was from this basis that cooperation and understanding between the two bodies was established.

The informal network of British Chambers of Commerce in the trading capitals of the world has contributed greatly over the years to the growth and strength of British overseas trade and investments. - Sir Michael Perry