On 17-18 August 2020, HE Pirkka Tapiola, Ambassador of the European Union to Thailand, together with his wife, Mrs Olga Tapiola, made an official visit to Chiang Rai to gain an insight into the current affairs of the province and northern Thailand. During the trip, the Ambassador paid a courtesy call on Chiang Rai Governor Prajon Prachsakul, observed the EU-funded COVID-19 recovery efforts in the province and visited development projects that have transformed the socio-economy of the province and the livelihoods of its people.
In their meeting, the Ambassador and the Chiang Rai governor discussed prospects for
EU-Thailand relations in the coming years and exchanged views on the province’s economic recovery and social transformation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Chiang Rai has important ties to the European Union through trade and development programmes, including an EU-funded project to de-marginalise hill communities in the province (2013-2017), the conservation of the Boon Rueang Wetland Forest, which was supported by the international organization RECOFTC with funding from the European Union (2015-2018), and the granting of EU geographical indications to Doi Tung and Doi Chaang coffee (2015).
The Ambassador also visited the “EU COVID-19 Response and Recovery in Thailand”
programme in Chiang Rai. During the COVID-19 crisis, Chiang Rai has had only nine
confirmed cases of infection, yet the socio-economic impact of the pandemic can be felt among several vulnerable groups, particularly those earning their living from tourism. In mid-July, the European Union launched its €2.6-million (90 million baht) COVID-19 recovery efforts in Thailand with three key components: immediate relief, social and economic recovery and resilience building for vulnerable communities affected by the pandemic.
The nationwide project of the programme, which covers 38 provinces including Chiang Rai, is implemented by ActionAid Thailand in collaboration with the Chumchon Thai Foundation, the Foundation for Labour and Employment Promotion (HOMENET) and the BioThai Foundation. In Chiang Rai, the project offers support to local informal workers, most of whom are craft makers and vendors. Many of them usually sell their products at the Chiang Rai Walking Street and have been greatly impacted by the lockdown measures and the decreased number of tourists to the province.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the livelihoods of millions of people
around the world. This is an unprecedented crisis that is having far-reaching consequences,” said Ambassador Tapiola. “The EU COVID-19 Response and Recovery in Thailand programme will tackle these consequences by providing affected communities with not only immediate relief but also social and economic recovery and resilience building. We want to see people able to get back on their feet as soon as possible while also being empowered to with stand and mitigate possible crises in the future.”
In addition, Ambassador Tapiola paid a visit to the Tea and Coffee Institute of Mae Fah
Luang University and the Doi Tung Development Project under the Mae Fah Luang
Foundation to learn about the tea and coffee industry’s contributions to the economic and social development of the northern province. At the Doi Tung Development Project (DTDP), the Ambassador witnessed how the DTDP has transformed many lives by creating income-generating opportunities, allowing the hill tribe people of northern Thailand to break free from poverty, drugs and conflict. He appreciated the opportunity to observe the production of Doi Tung organic coffee, which has been granted the EU Geographical Indication, and the Doi Tung textile factory, which produces high-quality merchandise for consumers in many European countries working through its partnership with IKEA.
“A mission outside the capital such as this trip is crucial for any diplomat to get a fuller
understanding of their host country,” said the EU ambassador. “The beautiful province of Chiang Rai is not only important for Thailand in cultural, social and economic terms, but also for the European Union. I am glad to see the EU contribution to the mitigation of the COVID-19 impact on the province. Moreover, I am happy to learn about the wonderful achievements of both the Tea and Coffee Institute of Mae Fah Luang University and the Doi Tung Development Project as well as have the opportunity to explore existing and future ties between Europe and Chiang Rai during this trip.”
The European Union (EU) is a political and economic union of 27 Member States. Together, they have built a zone of peace, democracy and sustainable development whilst maintaining cultural diversity, tolerance and individual freedom. In 2012, the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for advancing the causes of peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe. The EU is the largest trade block in the world, as well as the world’s largest source and destination of foreign direct investment.
Collectively, the EU and its member states are the world’s largest donor of official
development assistance, accounting for 55 per cent of global aid. In this fight against
COVID-19, the European Union is mobilising a “Team Europe” package worth over €800 million (28 billion baht) to support ASEAN and its Member States to address the immediate health crisis, strengthen health, water and sanitation systems, as well as mitigate the socio-economic impact of the pandemic.