From Kittery to Fort Kent, a breakfast featuring wild Maine blueberries, Maine ployes, Maine maple syrup, Maine-roasted coffee and other tasty treats from around our state has always been a great way to start the day. Now, that's also true from Bangor to Bangkok.
I recently had the privilege of participating in the World Economic Forum in Thailand's capital city. The Forum included productive meetings with Southeast Asian leaders to discuss issues of defense, and regional and national security.
To mark my visit, the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok hosted a "Promote Maine" week that showcased Maine-made products and introduced them to Thai businesspeople, including major grocery importers. A highlight of the week was a breakfast featuring Maine products hosted by the American Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie Kenney, for U.S. and Thai business leaders.
Asia is one of Maine's key growth areas for trade. Thailand is a market for Maine products, with nearly $6 million in exports last year, but it could import much more. The effort to help strengthen commercial ties and promote Maine exports is the result of outstanding collaboration by the Embassy and the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine, the Maine International Trade Center, the Maine Office of Tourism, and Maine Lobster Promotion Council.
Guests also were provided with information on Maine tourism. As a native of Caribou, I was delighted that the event included posters, brochures, and other materials promoting the beauty and culture of Aroostook County as well as other regions that are better known to foreign tourists.
Thailand is America's oldest non-European ally, with a friendship based on trade that dates to 1818, when an American ship visited what was then called Siam with a letter from President James Monroe. In 1833, this friendship was strengthened by the Treaty of Amity and Commerce.
Our two countries share one of history's most fascinating stories. In 1861, America was in the midst of a Civil War. The King of Siam, His Majesty King Mongut, offered to send a herd of trained war elephants to aid the Union and the cause of freedom. Our President, Abraham Lincoln, had to turn down the gift, citing the unsuitable North American climate for the animals, but the kind gesture was not forgotten.
On that foundation of goodwill, the United States and Thailand today cooperate on a wide range of issues, including education, public health, security, and, of course, business and trade.
Our State of Maine plays an important role in the partnership of commerce between our two countries. While Maine is best known for lobster and blueberries, our leading exports to Thailand actually are vaccines for veterinary medicine, coated paper, seaweed-based additives for food and medicine, and communications equipment.
Maine's seaports have a long history as a point of entry for a key product from Thailand. For generations, Thai tapioca was unloaded onto our docks to be processed for the food industry at starch plants in Aroostook County. Today, Maine has three deepwater ports ideally suited to help increase trade between The United States and Thailand. They are known for efficient, capable workers, and the ability to handle a wide range of cargoes, from fuel and lumber to tapioca and livestock.
Thailand is America's oldest friend in Southeast Asia. As we strengthen trade, we will strengthen our friendship.