Updated: Apr 3
Trade between Thailand and the USA is a long and proud tradition. However, while relations between the two countries stretch back almost 200 years, this is not some relic of history. Instead, it is a thriving economic partnership, rich with opportunities for Thai exporters and US importers alike.
In 2017, the US imported $35 billion worth of goods and services from Thailand, with $13.9 billion heading the other way in exports. By 2018, Thailand had become the United States’ 20th most important trading partner in terms of import and export value, and the Southeast Asian nation continues to be an economic powerhouse in its local market.
But what does this mean for individual business owners looking for import and export options between Thailand and America? Take a look at what you need to know to make the most of this flourishing partnership.
Labor Costs in Thailand
Thailand does not operate a nationwide minimum wage. Instead, its individual provinces are free to set their own minimum wages within centralized national parameters. These are:
315 baht per hour ($10.05) in 22 provinces
320 baht per hour ($10.21) in 21 provinces
325 baht per hour ($10.37) in 14 provinces
331 baht per hour ($10.56) in 6 provinces
323 baht per hour ($10.31) in 6 provinces
313 baht per hour ($9.99) in 3 provinces
336 baht per hour ($10.72) in 2 provinces
330 baht per hour ($10.53), 335 baht ($10.69) per hour, and 324 baht per hour ($10.34) across the 3 remaining provinces
While these minimums are greater than the ones implemented by many US states, they are significantly lower than many American minimum wages, such as those of California, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
Top US Import Commodities from Thailand
As of 2018, the top import categories from Thailand to the United States were:
Electrical machinery ($7.9 billion)
Rubber ($3.3 billion) — Thailand is the world’s biggest natural rubber exporter.
Precious metal and stones, including jewelry ($1.4 billion)
Optical instruments and medical instruments ($1.1 billion)
Agricultural products make up a large proportion of Thai imports into the United States, totaling $2.7 billion in 2017. In part, this consisted of:
Rice ($549 million)
Processed fruits and vegetables ($475 million)
Tree nuts ($122 million)
Snack foods ($104 million)
Logistics and Supply Chain Infrastructure in Thailand
Thailand is one of Southeast Asia’s leaders in terms of infrastructure and economic development. Key locations in the country include:
Klong Toey — The primary port of the country’s capital Bangkok is Thailand’s largest port, with a handling capacity of 1.5 million containers each year. It is located on the Chao Praya river and features a water depth of 8.5 meters.
Laem Chabang — While not as large as Klong Toey, Laem Chabang is a specialized container port with a greater capacity and can handle around 6.9 million containers each year. It also has a greater water depth of 12 meters and is located in Chon Buri province.
Dawei economic zone — A new deepwater harbor development, conducted in partnership with neighboring Myanmar as well as Japan.
Other key Thai ports include:
Chiang Saen on the Mekong River, connecting Thailand with China as well as further afield
Chiang Khon, in Chiang Rai province, serving trade between neighboring Myanmar and Laos
Chiang Khong, also in Chiang Rai, serving regional trade between China, Laos, and Myanmar, and with a capacity of 15,000 tons per year
Ranong on the Kra Buri River in Ranong province, handling 12,000 containers each year and featuring a water depth of 30 meters
Freight airports in Thailand include:
Suvarnabhumi and Don Meuang in Bangkok
Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand
Phuket and Hat Yai in the south of Thailand
Mae Sot, in the west of Thailand, on the Myanmar border
The Risks of Importing from Thailand
Higher labor costs than elsewhere in the region
Thailand in 2020 is generally very stable. However, political instability has been a problem in the southernmost provinces of Thailand, and there were major protests across the country in 2013.
Suspension of trade preferences between the USA and Thailand in 2019
The risk of Thailand being placed on the U.S. Treasury’s currency manipulator watchlist
Despite these risks — which are relatively moderate compared to other international markets — Thailand remains on the United States’ key trading partners in Southeast Asia and offers an abundance of opportunities.