Q: First, tell us a little about yourself and walk us through your background.
A: While I was born in Galveston, which some people believe is prestigious, i.e. “Born on the Island” (BOI), I grew up in South Texas in McAllen not far from the border across from Reynosa, Mexico, and attended middle school and the first year of high school there. Later, we moved to Corpus Christi. Growing up in a Spanish speaking culture made me a budding internationalist. When I traveled to Mexico as a youngster, I was fascinated by Mexican history and culture and later at the University of Texas in Austin I minored in International Studies with an emphasis on Latin America with a minor in Spanish. I received a fellowship to study international law in the Republic of Chile. Later, I graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in Austin. While there, I was President of the International Law Society and started the exchange program between the University of Texas School of Law and the Universidad de Guanajuato. I also hosted the then immediate past President of Brazil, Juscelino Kubitschek.
I first started practicing law with the largest law firm in the United States with a Latin American practice, Reid & Priest, located first at 2 Rector Street and later at 40 Wall Street. I returned to Houston and practiced law with Butler, Binion, Rice, Cook and Knapp as an international lawyer and subsequently started my own law firm, Tindall & Foster (now Foster, LLP), which ultimately became the largest immigration law firm not only in Houston and the State of Texas, but one of the largest in the country.
I served as an immigration policy advisor to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and worked as an immigration policy advisor to several other presidential candidates. I served as the first and only Chairman of the Immigration Task Force for the State of Texas and was the first non-New York area national President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Until recently, I chaired the Board of the Asia Society Texas Center for 24 years and was Chairman of the Board of Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston.
Q: What does a Consul in your capacity do?
A: As Honorary Consul General of the Kingdom of Thailand, I think honorary consuls can do as much or as little as any career consular officer. While we may not initially have the same background, in time we learn a great deal about the country we represent. In my case, we have the authority to issue visas and we have become one of the larger Thai visa issuing consular posts, in some cases larger than career consular posts. We represent Thailand at official functions and host Thai officials when they visit the region. I have hosted the Prime Minister of Thailand as well as Her Majesty Queen Sirikit and the now King of Thailand, His Majesty Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Q: Tell us about the Thai Honorary Consulate General in Houston. What parts of America are covered by the Consulate and what are the services it provides?
A: The Honorary Consulate General of the Kingdom of Thailand in Houston essentially covers what might be described as a central Texas area, but predominantly the greater Houston region. Thailand also has an Honorary Consul in Dallas. As stated above, most services we provide are the same as provided by career consular posts.
Q: What are some past, present, and future goals for Thailand’s relationship with the U.S.?
A: Thailand has the longest established diplomatic relations with the United States of any country in Asia. It has been an ally of the United States for many, many decades and is one of the few countries that fought alongside the United States in the Korean, Vietnam and Iraq Wars. Thailand has significant economic and military ties with the United States and regularly holds multiple joint military operations with the United States. It is all about the economy today, so the main goal is to improve trade between our countries, which would be mutually beneficial.
Q: Tell us about your perspective on ways that U.S.-Thailand cooperation may be furthered.
A: The most important thing for Thailand today is trade. The withdrawal of the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership was a setback for U.S.-Thai relations. At one point the U.S. and Thailand were pursuing a bilateral trade agreement; hopefully that can be reinvigorated.
Q: What are some big picture issues facing Thailand today?
A: Thailand is a very stable country and is one of the world’s leading tourist destinations. Its big issue today is economy; thus, the importance of multilateral and bilateral trade agreements. The government of Thailand is also laying the groundwork for constitutional reform and for parliamentary elections.
Q: How is the Thai business community uniquely positioning itself to help Americans who are interested in doing business in Thailand?
A: Thailand Trade Centers in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami and the Office of Commercial Affairs at the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington, DC facilitate the opening of businesses in Thailand. They are very business friendly.
The Thai business community here in Houston is predominantly comprised of small businesses, but there is a very vigorous and active Thai Texas Business Association headed by Pat Ratana. Their web address is www.facebook.com/ThaiTexasAssociation.