Greg Goldhawk has been a Canadian diplomat for a quarter of century. Interestingly enough, during his posting to Sydney, Australia, he inherited the mantle of John Lark, the first trade commissioner Canada sent overseas, back in 1875. Greg assumed his duties here in Bangkok as Commercial Counselor at the Canadian Embassy in September of 2006. Besides Sydney, his previous international assignments have included Atlanta, Athens, and Washington DC with intervening stops at the Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade in Ottawa, first as Deputy Director for UD Trade & Investment Development, and later as Deputy Director for Korea and Oceanic Asia.

Greg grew up on a family farm near Ridgetown, in southwestern Ontario. He received both his Bachelor’s Arts in Political Science and his Masters Degree in International Relations from Carleton University, and then he went on to take his Masters of Business Administration from the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School. He is married to Sharon Foltz, and the couple has one daughter, Sydney.

What prompted Greg to get into the world of diplomacy? “I wanted something that would combine my interest in international politics and international business,” he says. “But when I graduated with my MBA in 1981, there weren’t that many options: you could either get into banking or diplomacy. Today, there are endless opportunities for young Canadians in international commerce as any Canadian company of any size is doing business internationally.”

Back then, Greg could see that the direction of the Canadian economy and the economic welfare of the country were going to be increasingly linked to Canada’s ability to compete on an international basis, even at home. Canadian companies would have to be international competitive, even to survive in the domestic market.

So Greg looked to the Foreign Service, specifically the Trade Commissioner’s service (Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department is actually combined with International Trade, with the former focusing on general/political relations and the latter focusing on commercial relations). He endured the multiplicity of interviews, wrote the exams and passed — being one of only 14 out of 4,000 who did in 1982.

How does Greg like Bangkok? “My wife and I feel like we have won the lottery. We love it socially, and culturally. It’s a great place to live and to work. My daughter’s in a school she really loves and my wife is involved in some community projects including children’s theatre. It’s funny; my wife and daughter are about to return to Canada for a trip and they were feeling a reluctance to go because they were going to miss ‘home’ (Bangkok) so much. You know a place has really grabbed at your heartstrings when you call it home.”

The Canadian embassy in Bangkok also covers Canadian interests in Laos and Burma, but Greg and his colleagues are forbidden from promoting trade with Burma. Laos is another story, however, and that’s the focus of Anderson Blanc, the embassy’s Second Commercial Secretary. “There’s little in terms of commercial exchange between Canada and Laos, but Canadian services are offered through the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and CIDA,” Anderson says. “Laos is one of the world’s least developed nations, so its MNF accreditation is very low, and there are some very basic market access problems.

“Laos is trying to get admitted into the WTO and to lose its least of the least developed nation status by 2020. The country does have a number of markets that are booming like the mining sector and this has brought interest from Vietnam, China and Russia. Laos is already selling electricity to EGAT and other neighbors from the Nam Thuen 2 project and they are considering other projects.

“Laos has frozen mining concessions until the end of the year to make sure companies applying for these concessions adhere to environmental and human rights concerns and Canadian expertise can help provide proper environmental impact assessments. And there are a number of projects Canada is working on that will help the Laotian government become efficient in terms of the delivery of services.

“Specifically, Canada can help with transparency by providing e-government software tools. For example, if the Laotian Finance Ministry wants to spend money on a certain item every one will know where that money went, how it was spent, and what happened to it.”

Commenting on the investment climate in Laos, Greg says, “If you look at recent legislature, there has been some liberalization in Laos and they are trying to create an environment where investors want to invest. The path to development involves empowering your middle class because they are the entrepreneurs. In every country I’ve traveled to that wasn’t developed, the first thing I noticed was there wasn’t a significant middle class.”

Canada and Thailand share a CAN$2.5 billion in trade, but Canada has a significant trade deficit with 80% of the trade going from Thailand to Canada and only 20% come the other way. The majority of the CAN$1 billion Canadians invest in Thailand is in the financial sector (agro-food, info and communications technology, environmental products and services, energy and infrastructure projects are also key areas of Canadian investment).

Greg cites the Scotiabank’s investment in Thanachart Bank as a prime example. On 29 March 2007 Scotiabank reached an agreement to acquire 24.99% of Thanachart Bank, Thailand’s eighth largest commercial bank in Thailand for THB7.1 billion. Scotiabanks’s agreement also contains provisions to increase its ownership stake up to 49%. Scotiabank’s investment in Thanachart Bank represents the first M&A transaction as a strategic partner for a Canadian company in the banking sector in Thailand. Scotiabank is one of the largest foreign direct investments for a major Canadian company in Thailand. Manulife and Canadoil are other examples of major Canadian companies investing in Thailand.

Greg also says you don’t have to be a titan in industry to do business here. “We are dealing with a lot of SMEs who have been successful in the US or Australia and are looking at that next step and saying ‘Can we do this in Thailand’. And these companies manufacture everything from aerial surveillance systems for crops to telephone and broadcast equipment.”

Greg would also like to mention the work of the TCCC. “I can’t tell you valuable it is to have the Thai-Canadian Chamber of Commerce as a partner,” he says. “Thailand is one of the few places I’ve been where I’m found a free-standing, self-propelled Canadian Chamber of Commerce that really had its act together. The TCCC is really value added for us at every level in terms of helping to find opportunities for Canadian companies, helping us push messages to the Thai authorities vis-a-vis market access for Canadian products and the FBA.”

It’s no secret that Greg is having a hard time selling Canadian companies on Thailand at the present time. “I had this long pipeline of companies that were interested in Thailand (about CAN$800 million worth), with negotiations at the talking phase, but the majority of those potential investors have just disappeared, deciding to put Thailand on hold until such time as the way forward, both politically and regulatory, becomes clearer. Not Thailand, not now, seems to be their slogan.

“What investors fear the most is uncertainty; they can even put up with bad conditions as long they know what’s going on. But it’s the uncertainty that scares them away. If you take the coup, then layer on top of that visa restrictions, currency controls, the bombings in the south and Bangkok — taken as a package you can see how people are reticent to invest in Thailand right now.”

For 25 years, Greg Goldhawk has ably served the Canadian diplomatic community - we are lucky to have him here. The dairy farm he grew up now raises mixed crops, but it still a 100-acre patch of land, near the shores of Lake Erie, that Greg can go back to and call home.

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