The Amer­i­can Cham­ber of Com­merce in Thai­land: Its His­tory and Its Growth

Reprinted from: T- AB, May- June 1985

Thai-American Business (T-AB) Magazine - - Contents -

The cen­turies called the “Dark Ages” saw trade and com­merce in Europe al­most at a stand­still. Busi­ness was con­ducted on a barter ba­sis for the most part un­til well into the 12th Cen­tury. Then, sud­denly, busi­ness­men re­dis­cov­ered the fact that more could be ac­com­plished by co­op­er­at­ing with each other than fight­ing con­stantly. They or­ga­nized to present their wares to buy­ers through dis­plays at com­mu­nity fairs which de­vel­oped in the grow­ing cities of Europe at that time.

Through­out the Middle Ages which fol­lowed, the mer­chant guilds grew ever stronger. Through­out cen­tral and north­ern Europe, they soon dom­i­nated all busi­ness ex­cept that in lo­cal pro­duce and prod­ucts. They con­trolled the move­ment of goods from the Mediter­ranean re­gion north­ward and ex­tended their in­flu­ence into the Middle East by co­op­er­at­ing with Le­van­tine, Per­sian and Arab traders who sup­plied lux­ury tex­tiles, dyes, gems and, par­tic­u­larly, spices to all of Europe.

In 1599, the town coun­cil in the im­por­tant port city of Mar­seilles, France, formed the first or­ga­ni­za­tion to be called a Cham­ber of Com­merce. Dur­ing the fol­low­ing cen­tury, other French cities set up sim­i­lar cham­bers, and their grow­ing suc­cess led King Louis XIV, in 1700, to or­der ev­ery French trad­ing cen­ter, in­clud­ing those over­seas, to es­tab­lish a Cham­ber of Com­merce.

As links be­tween th­ese many Cham­bers grew stronger, and as they suc­cess­fully co­op­er­ated with the grow­ing num­ber of trade guilds, King Louis XVI came to fear their power as greater than his own. On the eve of the French Rev­o­lu­tion, in 1789, he sup­pressed both the cham­bers and the trade guilds. A very few years later, in his ef­fort to stim­u­late trade and in­dus­try, Napoleon Bon­a­parte ap­proved their reestab­lish­ment.

Mean­while, Cham­bers of Com­merce were formed in other lands. In 1768 on the Isiand of Jersey in the English Chan­nel and on the Is­land of Man­hat­tan in Amer­ica, cham­bers were or­ga­nized. Be­fore 1800, Cham­bers of Com­merce were es­tab­lished in Leeds, Manch­ester, Dublin and Belfast, as well as in New York and South Carolina, Con­necti­cut and Penn­syl­va­nia. Sim­i­lar or­ga­ni­za­tions were in be­ing in Bel­gium, the Nether­lands and the trad­ing cities of north Ger­many.

By 1870, at least 40 ma­jor Amer­i­can cities had Cham­bers of Com­merce. Since then, the cham­ber move­ment has spread across Amer­ica and around the world. To­day, ev­ery small town in the United States has its own Cham­ber – each work­ing to boost in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment, pro­mote tourism and in other ways im­prove the busi­ness cli­mate in its area.

Ev­ery trad­ing na­tion has its Cham­ber of Com­merce, and an In­ter­na­tional Cham­ber of Com­merce helps link them all to­gether. The Cham­ber of Com­merce of the United States is among the most in­flu­en­tial or­ga­ni­za­tions of busi­nesses and busi­ness­men in the world, with a large and busy per­ma­nent staff of ex­perts at its head­quar­ters, 1516 H St. N. W., Wash­ing­ton, D. C. 20006 across the park from the White House.


There must have been or­ga­ni­za­tions sim­i­lar to cham­bers here in the Ori­ent sev­eral cen­turies ago. Ori­en­tal busi­ness­men, craft guilds, even city and re­gional bod­ies, must have been struc­tured along lines sim­i­lar to Cham­bers of Com­merce in the Western na­tions.

As Euro­peans pen­e­trated the Ori­ent from the 15th Cen­tury on­ward, the Euro­pean mer­chant guilds re­lated to Cham­bers of Com­merce de­vel­oped eco­nomic and political pow­ers to con­trol trad­ing with this re­gion. Even­tu­ally, they di­rected the colo­nial em­pires in In­dia, In­done­sia and In­dochina, as well as the ex­trater­ri­to­rial trad­ing mo­nop­o­lies in Ja­pan, China, the Philip­pines and Thai­land. At that point, how­ever, their ba­sic pur­poses had changed and they were work­ing to mo­nop­o­lize trade rather than to pro­mote its de­vel­op­ment. They should not be con­sid­ered as in the main­stream of de­vel­op­ments which led to the Cham­bers of Com­merce of to­day.


About 87 years ago, the first Amer­i­can Cham­ber of Com­merce out­side the United States was formed, in Paris, France. To­day there are more than 50 Amer­i­can Cham­bers of Com­merce – Amchams – in at least 31 coun­tries and ar­eas over­seas. Still more are in the process of for­ma­tion. Each of th­ese Amchams is a vol­un­tary as­so­ci­a­tion of firms and the men who man­age them – Amer­i­can cit­i­zens and oth­ers – en­gaged in trade be­tween the United States and the coun­try where it is lo­cated. Each Amcham op­er­ates in co­op­er­a­tion with its host coun­try’s busi­ness firms, U. S. af­fil­i­ates, in­di­vid­u­als and govern­ment.

Via a broad spec­trum of ac­tiv­i­ties, each Amcham works to de­velop mu­tu­ally pros­per­ous and am­i­ca­ble eco­nomic, so­cial and com­mer­cial re­la­tions be­tween the busi­ness and in­dus­trial in­ter­ests of the United States and those of the hose coun­try. Each also at­tempts to foster and to com­mu­ni­cate abroad the ben­e­fi­cial con­cepts of Amer­i­can pri­vate en­ter­prise.

None of the Amchams is a “po­lice­man” within the busi­ness com­mu­nity where it op­er­ates. But by ap­ply­ing moral stan­dards and by re­fus­ing mem­ber­ship to firms and in­di­vid­u­als who do not ad­here to eth­i­cal busi­ness stan­dards, each has con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence in main­tain­ing – among firms con­sid­ered “Amer­i­can” at least – a level of busi­ness per­for­mance a cut above the com­mu­nity av­er­age. When, at the same time, an Amcham helps pro­mote two- way flows of trade be­tween the United States and its host coun­try aboard, it has achieved its two pri­mary ob­jec­tives.

Con­sid­er­ing that trade be­tween the United States and the Ori­ent dates back at least to 1784, when the 360- ton sail­ing ship, Em­press of China, reached Can­ton from New York, that Amer­i­can busi­ness­men have been ac­tive in this re­gion since be­fore the Civil War in the 1850s, it is re­mark­able that the first ef­fort to or­ga­nize an Amer­i­can Cham­ber of Com­merce in this re­gion did not come un­til af­ter World War I in the Philip­pines. On the South- east Asian main­land, a start was made here in Bangkok only 29 years ago.


In 1955, there were only 10 bonafide Amer­i­can busi­ness firms in Thai­land, and the ac­tual U. S. busi­ness com­mu­nity con­sisted of only 60 per­sons. In­for­mal meet­ings that year led to a de­ci­sion to at­tempt to or­ga­nize an Amer­i­can Cham­ber in Bangkok and to qual­ify it for mem­ber­ship in the Cham­ber of Com­merce of the United States.

The first for­mal meet­ing of the new Cham­ber was in March 1956. Lewis Davis, then man­ager of the Bank of Amer­ica Branch here, was elected as the first pres­i­dent, with Reeve Hank­ins, of ROLIBEC/ RBH In­sur­ance Cen­ter ( now HLR Group of Com­pa­nies) named vice- pres­i­dent. Oth­ers among those re­spon­si­ble for found­ing the Cham­ber in Thai­land in­cluded Mrs. Robert North of North Star Co., Al­bert Ly­man of Tilleke & Gib­bins, Lewis Cyk­man of Star of Siam, and a very few oth­ers no longer present in this coun­try.

Within a short time af­ter its for­ma­tion, the new or­ga­ni­za­tion qual­i­fied for mem­ber­ship in the U. S. Cham­ber of Com­merce – a sta­tus it main­tains to­day. It reg­is­tered with the Thai Govern­ment and be­came a mem­ber of the Thai Board of Trade. The pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Cham­ber au­to­mat­i­cally serves as a mem­ber of the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee of that body.

For the past 29 years, the Amer­i­can Am­bas­sador to Thai­land has acted as hon­orary pres­i­dent of the Cham­ber. Am­bas­sadors Max Bishop, Alexis John­son, Ken­neth Young, Gra­ham Martin, Leonard Unger, Wil­liam Kint­ner, Charles White­house, Mor­ton Abramowitz and John Gun­ther Dean – all have ac­cepted that role. But this hon­orary pres­i­dency is the only of­fi­cial con­nec­tion be­tween the U. S. Govern­ment and the Amer­i­can Cham­ber, which re­ceives all its fi­nan­cial sup­port and con­trol from its mem­ber­ship and its pol­icy di­rec­tion from its elec­tive of­fi­cers. Any closer re­la­tion­ship with govern­ment would be in­con­sis­tent with

U. S. Vice- Pres­i­dent Lyn­don B. John­son ad­dresses AMCHAM mem­bers at the Ori­en­tal Ho­tel Bangkok in 1962

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