Clive Beddall, Bangkok The massively enhanced role set to be played by Far Eastern nations in the world food and drink supply league was thrown dramatically into the international trading spotlight in Thailand last week. Thai manufacturers' bid to shed their image as commodity suppliers and reinventthemselves as added value food and drink manufacturers, received an important boost during the Thaifex 2002 trade fair. But other Far Eastern nations ­ including China, Vietnam and Malaysia ­ also made their presence felt among visiting European buyers. Executives from Beijing, in particular, were busy circulating details of their Green Food and Sustainable Agriculture programme, described by one German buyer as "one of the most significant papers to come out of Asia", given China's recent entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The Chinese could dominate in products that need intensive manual labour to grow or prepare because they have an almost endless supply of cheap labour, visiting experts said. Vietnam-based marketing executive Jessie Tong, of Interfood Processing Industry, told The Grocer: "More and more Far Eastern firms are being attracted by the profit margins in the West. "Everyone wants to put their products onto the shelves of Tesco, Ahold and Wal-Mart." Backed by their country's Department of Export Promotion, more than 800 Thai firms packed the city's impressive BITEC centre. And they greeted visiting buyers with the message: "There's much more to Thailand's food industry than rice, pineapples and canned tuna." As one packer put it: "Our government is doing a lot to improve quality standards, but we've also been helped by the arrival of Tesco in Thailand. They have shown us what the critical western multiples really expect. Tesco has proved there is no short cut to export success." And while there has been an explosion of new convenience products from the Thai fish and vegetables sector in particular, it was clear that the traditional items from the country's food production base ­ rice, pineapple and tuna ­ still figured prominently, albeit in new added value forms. Thailand's strictly enforced quality mark, the "Thailand brand" has been extended to 500 food and drink groups. {{NEWS }}