×Exclusive HealthCuisineSustainabilityMagazine

Ambassador Pedro Zwahlen: Enhancing Bilateral Ties Between Switzerland And Thailand That Span Over 90 Years

Ambassador Pedro Zwahlen: Enhancing Bilateral Ties Between Switzerland And Thailand That Span Over 90 Years

     HE Ambassador Pedro Zwahlen of Switzerland arrived in Bangkok on the 22.11.2022 to enhance and promote relations between Switzerland and Thailand that span well over 90 years. Elite+ was fortunate to meet Ambassador Pedro and learn about the close bilateral ties between the two countries.

     Ambassador Pedro was born in El Salvador and grew up in Thun, in the canton of Bern, Switzerland. Prior to his arrival in Bangkok, he served as ambassador to Australia and El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama. In addition to Thailand, Ambassador Pedro is accredited to Cambodia and the Lao PDR. His spouse, Yasmine Chatila Zwahlen, is currently serving as Swiss ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

How would you say your previous ambassadorial postings helped you to assume the ambassadorship to Thailand?
      The local environment – language, culture and government – is very different from the countries where I have served before. My new job required an intense phase of adaptation at the beginning, everything seemed so new! But in fact, my fundamental tasks remain the same: maintaining and strengthening good relations between Switzerland and the host country and leading the Swiss embassy team. One of my main focuses is always managing human relations on all levels and prioritising tasks for me and for others properly. After 25 years pursuing a diplomatic career, I realise how valuable experience is for anticipation, sound judgment and good decision-making in this job. At the same time, I see learning about such different countries and human beings throughout my career as a great privilege.


As Switzerland and Thailand have celebrated over 90 years of diplomatic relations, could you tell us how these have evolved?

     The relations between Thailand and Switzerland have a long way since the first contacts established in the 17th century by Swiss missionaries with what was then the Kingdom of Siam. His Majesty King Chulalongkorn The Great (Rama V) was the first Thai king to visit Switzerland, and he honoured Switzerland on three occasions, first as early as 1897 and twice in 1907. The stability of Switzerland and its abstinence from imperialist politics led to a trustful relationship between the Chakri dynasty and my country throughout the 20th century. Famously, His Majesty King Rama IX spent his childhood and adolescence in the City of Lausanne, Switzerland from to 1933 to 1951. He returned to finish his studies after his coronation in 1950, and maintained a strong connection to Switzerland throughout his life, together with his siblings and his children.

     In 1931, a treaty of friendship between Switzerland and Thailand and the opening of a Swiss Consulate in Bangkok one year later, marked the beginning of formal diplomatic relations between our two countries. Our political, economic and social exchange has been growing ever since. Today, our relations are rich, diverse and dynamic.



Is Switzerland at all involved in the Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Thailand?

      As Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, we are not involved in the current EU-Thailand negotiations. However, Switzerland is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), together with Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, and indeed, the EFTA is also negotiating a free trade agreement with Thailand. Eight rounds have already been concluded, and in April, the two delegations will meet again to continue the process. The President of the Swiss Confederation, Ms Viola Amherd, and Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin discussed these negotiations at their meeting at the World Economic Forum 2024 in Davos, and both delegations are hopeful that the agreement can be concluded by the end of the year.


Could you tell us about bilateral trade between Switzerland and Thailand as well as with ASEAN?

      Switzerland is Thailand’s second largest trading partner in Europe and its 16th worldwide. The bilateral trade volume in 2023 amounted to CHF 7.4 billion. Apart from large quantities of refined gold, the main Swiss export products to Thailand are watches, machinery and pharmaceutical products.

      There is also significant bilateral investment in both directions. Switzerland is Thailand’s third largest European source of Foreign Direct Investment, and its 11th largest source worldwide. There is significant potential for growth in this area, and trends show that investment flows from Thailand to Switzerland are increasing. Central Group’s recent acquisition of the luxury Swiss department store chain Globus is a prominent example.

     With ASEAN, Switzerland is in a Sectoral Dialogue Partnership since 2016. That allows us to strengthen cooperation with Southeast Asian countries in various fields, including our economic ties with the whole Asia-Pacific region.



What would you say have been your achievements during your first year as ambassador to Thailand? What plans do you have for the remaining 2024 and beyond to foster closer ties?

      2023 felt like the first full year of the post-pandemic era. It was a pleasure getting back to a ‘normal rhythm’, including a full agenda as the new ambassador, meeting a wide range of crucial actors in politics, the economy and our large Swiss community.

      Let me discuss a few elements. In the diplomatic field, we held political consultations with Thailand as well as with Cambodia. Bangkok hosted a regional conference with Swiss ambassadors. We celebrated 60 years of diplomatic relations with both Cambodia and the Lao PDR. On the first of August, we had a memorable Swiss National Day celebration, including Alphorns playing both national anthems, which fostered my new network in Thailand. Talking of music, we also supported the famous Lucerne Symphony Orchestra performance in Bangkok, working hand in hand with Bangkok’s 25th International Festival of Dance & Music.

      Among our achievements 2023, I should definitely mention the opening of a new Honorary Consulate in Pattaya, Chonburi, with Ms Esther Kaufmann as our third honorary consul in Thailand. The consulate will support Swiss citizens who find themselves in need, but I am convinced that it will also contribute to forging stronger bonds between our countries, as well
as our peoples. We have talked about our ongoing Free Trade Negotiations already. A bilateral area where we managed to take a significant step forward is our partnership to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. In February 2024, Switzerland and Thailand celebrated the world’s first ‘ITMO transfer for NDC use' via a project bringing 2000 electric buses to the streets of Bangkok, paid by taxes on fossil fuel imports into Switzerland. This was a small step for mankind, but a big step for our teams’ commitment to fight global warming. We just have to do whatever we can in this field.

     In the area of public communication, I have been busy making Swiss diplomacy in the region more visible wherever this is possible. Much of my work in my current position can actually be communicated freely, and social media are a great tool to do so. For example, you can find more information about all the activities which I am mentioning in this interview via my X (Twitter) account as well.

      I took over the position of Head of Mission in Bangkok right at the end of an important restructuring of the Embassy. So, last but not least, the consolidation of our new structures and the team with several new leadership positions was completed successfully in the first year on my watch. I call myself lucky to work with an excellent team.


What advice would you give Thai entrepreneurs who may be interested in trading with Switzerland?

     I would encourage Thai entrepreneurs to explore the vast opportunities further and contact the Swiss-Thai Chamber of Commerce located at our Embassy. Switzerland has been distinguished as the most innovative country in the world for many years, fuelled by top technical expertise, quality craftsmanship and a free public education system providing a fair chance for every single talent growing up in my country. Whatever your business might be, you will probably find some Swiss made solution in a technical detail to improve your performance significantly.


How big would you say the Swiss community is in Thailand, and what businesses are they involved in?

     Thailand is home to the largest Swiss community in Asia, with more than 10,000 Swiss nationals living permanently in Thailand and many more spending part of the year here. There are only two out of 77 Thai provinces where you will NOT find any Swiss citizen registered. Many of them are retired; others are active in a variety of businesses, ranging from food and agriculture to manufacturing and services, including healthcare. Thailand is an important business partner in Asia for Switzerland. The Swiss-Thai Chamber of Commerce boasts around 200 members, and more than 40,000 people are currently employed by Swiss firms in Thailand. If all of these persons were to live in one town in Switzerland, it would be the twelfth biggest city in the country – just behind my home town Thun.


Thais love to travel to Switzerland, what types of tourism activities are you now planning to promote?

      We are happy to host many Thai nationals in Switzerland, indeed! The Thai market fully recovered last year, compared to pre pandemic levels. At the Embassy, the Switzerland Tourism office takes care of this promotion. For the future, we will focus more on quality than on quantity. Our country aims at being a more ‘Swisstainable’ destination, which means that our goal is to encourage people to stay longer and delve deeper in our cultures, nature, gastronomy etc., and to travel by public transportation and/or electric cars. The concept ‘Grand Tour of Switzerland’ provides a key for a wonderful and diverse experience travelling in my country.


As you have now spent over a year in Thailand, what has impressed you most about the country and its culture?

     I think that Thailand is blessed with an extraordinarily rich culture and a highly civilized, peaceful society. There is a general atmosphere of serenity and harmony in Thailand. I have seen places in the world which are very different.

     I am also intrigued by the beauty of the Thai language which is so different from any language I have encountered before.


To conclude, do you have any final thoughts you would like to share with our readers?

    Switzerland and Thailand share a rich history of friendship and cooperation, marked by mutual respect and understanding. Through our deep connections and partnerships in so many areas, we have forged enduring bonds that continue to thrive.

    Looking ahead, I am optimistic about the potential for further growth and innovation in our bilateral relations. As Switzerland remains committed to promoting peace, prosperity and sustainable development, I am confident that our continued collaboration with Thailand will yield mutual benefits for both our countries.

     I would like to thank the Thai people for receiving me so kindly in their beautiful, peaceful country.


In the business community, she serves on the Board of Directors with the Thai-Hong Kong Trade Association. Kathy is on the Thailand Tatler Magazine Expat Society The 200 List. She is the Honorary Columnist and contributing writer to a few leading English magazines. She and her husband, RADM Dr Boonyarit Pokrud have one son who is currently based in Boston, USA.

Kathleen Pokrud

In the business community, she serves on the Board of Directors with the Thai-Hong Kong Trade Association. Kathy is on the Thailand Tatler Magazine Expat Society The 200 List. She is the Honorary Columnist and contributing writer to a few leading English magazines. She and her husband, RADM Dr Boonyarit Pokrud have one son who is currently based in Boston, USA.