News Canada

PM to talk trade, security in Thailand

Jessica Murphy, Parliamentary Bureau

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will put diplomacy before business as he kicks off a two-day official visit to Thailand as part of a three-country Asian tour.

Harper, who arrived in the Southeast Asian nation late Thursday, is travelling with a business delegation and will pitch Canadian investment opportunities to the fast-growing country.

But the first order of business will be paying his respects to Thailand's ailing, aging monarch, who has been hospitalized for more than two years.

Early Friday, Harper will stop by the Siriraj Hospital to sign a book of well wishes for King Bhumibol who, at 84, is the world's longest reigning monarch.

From there, he heads to a tete-a-tete with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, where the two leaders are expected to talk trade and security co-operation.

It's the first visit of Canadian prime minister to Thailand since 1997.

Thailand has been making overtures to Canada in terms of boosting trade between the two countries. Two-way trade was a relatively modest $3.5 billion in 2011.

But with an economy projected to expand by up to 6.5% this year, the developing industrialized nation is thirsty for fuel - and it's eyeing Canada's energy resources.

Thailand is emerging as a new source of foreign investment for Canada. In 2010, its state-own PTT invested $2.3 billion in an Alberta oilsands project.

The country is also seen as a regional hub, and analysts suggest gaining a foothold there could help pry open other Southeast Asian markets to Canadian business.

On Saturday, the prime minister will also get a first-hand look at how Thai and Canadian authorities are collaborating to fight human smuggling operations prevalent in the region.

The partnership grew out of the 2010 MV Sun Sea incident, when the cargo vessel from Thailand landed off the coast of British Columbia carrying close to 500 Sri Lankan Tamil migrants, who all later claimed refugee status.

The visit isn't all business. Harper will be taking in a Muay Thai - Thai kickboxing - demonstration before heading to Japan late Saturday.

From there, he travels to Seoul, South Korea, to join more than 50 other world leaders for a summit on nuclear safety and security.