AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin is taking steps to establish a new sister city in Thailand, with a kickoff event planned for this weekend.

Mayor Kirk Watson and provincial governor of Chiang Mai, Thailand, Nirat Phongsittithaworn, will sign a Memorandum of Understanding at Austin City Hall Sunday, launching a sister cities initiative.

A visiting delegation from Thailand will join Thai Ambassador to the United States, Tanee Sangrat, and U.S. Consul General in Chiang Mai, Lisa Buzenas, at the signing ceremony.

A kickoff event will follow at Wat Buddhananachat, a Buddhist temple just southeast of Austin.

Austin currently has 13 sister cities, in countries including Mexico, Peru, Australia, France, the United Kingdom and India. There are also three ‘friendship cities’ — in Cambodia, France and Mexico — that are in the process of becoming sister cities.

The interactive map below shows all of Austin’s sister and friendship cities.

“I am honored to support the launch of this new Austin-Chiang Mai Sister Cities initiative and lead a delegation from Chiang Mai to visit Austin,” Phongsittithaworn said. “We hope to meet new partners and friends, participate in an exchange of ideas and expertise, generate important new economic ties between our cities, and of course share the beauty of Thai culture and incredible Thai food with communities in Austin.”

Watson said the two cities share many similarities. “Both cities stand as global hubs for art, culture, music, food, and film,” he said. “We share a commitment to cutting-edge technology, creative industries, and a strong entrepreneurial spirit. We envision significant potential for both cities as we collaborate on shared goals.”

The Thai delegation will be in Austin from Nov. 11 through Nov. 16 and will engage in a series of meetings, exchanges and business matchmaking events, according to a press release from the city. Phongsittithaworn will be joined by members of Thailand’s parliament, leaders from Chiang Mai University, Royal Thai Police officials, as well as business leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators.

More sister cities coming?

City leaders recently announced a similar initiative with Florence, Italy. The cities signed a Protocol of Cooperation Agreement, with the intention of becoming sister cities.

“Both Florence and Chiang Mai will launch the Sister City initiative with Austin by becoming Friendship Cities, which allows for community exchanges and collaborations,” Carlos Soto, a spokesperson for the city’s Economic Development Department told KXAN. “Usually, within two years, this relationship will become an official Sister City relationship.”

Soto told KXAN the process usually takes one to two years of discussions and preparation. Discussions with several cities were delayed or put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to limitation on travel.

“We will be looking forward to continuing similar discussions that started pre-COVID, and hopefully mature those discussions into new partnership agreements within the next 12 months,” Soto said.

How is a sister city relationship established?

These are the minimum requirements that must be met for a sister city relationship to be established, according to the City of Austin:

Initial steps

  • Both cities sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to pursue at least one exchange.
  • Formation of an committee of at least 15 people to coordinate exchanges between Austin and the international city.
  • Establishment of relations between the two cities, along with a suggested two years worth of continual exchanges. This is to make contacts, build programs on each side and develop good communication links.

Next steps

  • Mayors of both cities sign a Friendship City Agreement outlining the original exchange and updating the original MOU with a strong economic development component
  • Two years of continual exchanges

Finally, both mayors sign a Sister City Agreement.