Thailand Update: Uptick in Export and Corporate Investment Figures

Thailand Update | March 2, 2017
Authors: Matt Solomon, Timotheos Tan
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Uptick in Export and Corporate Investment Figures

Thailand’s Ministry of Commerce has released data indicating a year-over-year increase in January’s exports of 8.8%, up from 5.17% in January 2016. This follows a rise of 6.2% in December, marking the third consecutive month of customs-cleared export expansion. The Ministry has also forecast export growth for 2017 to range from 2.5-3.5%, but Krisda Chinavicharana, the Director-General of the Fiscal Policy Office (FPO), indicated current estimates may be revised upwards as export numbers are expected to improve further throughout the year. This report follows analogous forecasts for an upturn in corporate investment, and a four-year high for new company registrations. The Director-General of the Business Development Department, Banjongjitt Angsusingh, linked the surge in registrations to “stronger economic growth, the government’s economic-stimulus measures and investment-promotion measures.” These numbers are especially welcome after an extended exports slump that contributed to sluggish growth over the past year.

Furthermore, the Thai government’s commitment to ensuring economic progress was highlighted at the recent “Opportunity Thailand” conference on February 15 in Bangkok, which showcased the “Thailand 4.0” model alongside economic and development priorities, headlined by the development of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), and investment in digital infrastructure. The evolution of the EEC is aimed at leveraging Thailand’s geographic advantage as a strategic regional and global trade transit hub in order to significantly increase trade and manufacturing, while an emphasis on the importance of digitral infrastructure is targeted at keeping Thailand at the forefront of efficiency and innovation.  Materials from the conference, including remarks from Prime Minister Prayut and Deputy Prime Minister Somkid, are available here.
Regional Affairs
Vietnam, Thailand enhance defence partnership

National Affairs
US ambassador has 'in-depth' talk with Prawit
Govt moves towards Strategic Environmental Assessments
Scuffles at Thai temple as police hunt for monk
Critics lash 'day of love' reconciliation forum
Reform has ‘never been more obtainable'

Defense & Security
America's 'absence' a blessing in disguise for Thailand: The Nation Columnist
What a Japan-Thailand weapons transfer agreement would mean
Japan may offer military trucks to ASEAN

UTCC downplays Trump trade tactics
Economic growth forecast set to be revised up
January exports up 8.8% year-on-year
Corporate investment tipped to rise in 2017
Car exports for January drops 14.53 percent, the lowest in 19 months
Industrial confidence index drops first time in 5 months
Thailand's Growth Weakens to One-Year Low as Consumption Eases
New law to make Thailand more competitive in targeted industries
New company registrations expected to hit 4-year high

Krabi coal plant to start anew
OAG starts wind farm 'collusion' inquiry

Financial Services
Thailand Insurance Market Liberalization: Relaxation of Foreign Shareholding Limits
SET lays ground for trading in startups
Costly Insurance in Thailand

Food & Agriculture
Thailand to stop sugar subsidy by year-end
Agriculture Dept to slap controls on farm chemicals

Health & Life Sciences
Govt denies it will scrap gold card scheme
How Thailand Eliminated Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission
Healthcare budget hit

Spending on public cloud services gathering pace
New agencies to sort out ICT overlap
Bids awarded for broadband work
11street launched in Thailand
Cloud and blockchain technology to drive Thailand’s digital transformation

New superboard set to commence
Regional Affairs

Vietnam, Thailand enhance defence partnership The Nation 23rd Feb 2017
Strengthening cooperation with Thailand, including in defence, is a priority for Vietnam, affirmed Defence Minister Ngo Xuan Lich at a meeting with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha in Bangkok Wednesday. The minister is on an official visit to Thailand from February 21-23. Minister Lich told the Thai PM that the Vietnamese defence ministry would continue working closely with their Thai counterparts, contributing to the two countries’ strategic partnership, which was established in June 2013. The minister thanked the Thai Government for assisting Vietnam in finding the graves of fallen Vietnamese soldiers in Nong Khai Province, and asked PM Chan-ocha to instruct Thailand’s ministries and localities to continue to help Vietnam repatriate the remains of soldiers.

National Affairs

US ambassador has 'in-depth' talk with Prawit Bangkok Post 27th Feb 2017
US ambassador Glyn Davies met Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon on Monday morning and said afterwards they had discussed the political reconciliation process. Mr Davies visited Gen Prawit at the Defence Ministry. He said they had discussed some issues in depth, including the political reconciliation process and public participation in it, the roadmap to democracy and the progress occurring there. "I repeated the same points that we made during the recent visit of Adm Harris, and he gave me a good sense of the plans of the royal Thai government going forward," the ambassador said.

Govt moves towards Strategic Environmental Assessments The Nation 25th Feb 2017
Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha on Tuesday mentioned a plan to set up an executive committee to conduct environmental assessments at the strategic level in the future. Prayut did not explicitly reference SEAs but the inference was clear that such assessments would be introduced in the near future. He said such studies would enable policymakers to better plan strategy for natural resources, both at the agricultural and industrial levels, while Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) would be conducted at the project level. However, the public knows relatively little about the process compared to the frequently referenced EIA process, leading to questions on how SEAs differ from other assessments.

Scuffles at Thai temple as police hunt for monk Reuters 21st Feb 2017
Monks and police scuffled on Monday at a Buddhist temple in Thailand where security forces are trying to arrest an influential former abbot on money-laundering charges. The standoff at the scandal-hit Dhammakaya Temple represents one of the biggest challenges to the authority of Thailand's junta since it took power in 2014. Police said they would try to avoid violence while threatening arrest for followers of the sprawling temple who have defied orders to leave and instead flocked there, hampering the search for 72-year-old Phra Dhammachayo. With tension rising four days after the military government ordered emergency powers to be used in the search, monks and police pushed and shoved at one of the temple gates.

Critics lash 'day of love' reconciliation forum Bangkok Post 14th Feb 2017
The government's reconciliation forum kicks off Tuesday amid criticism over "biased" questions to be directed at political parties. On the first day of the forum, three smaller parties will attend to share their views on national unity. The New Aspiration Party, the Farmer Network of Thailand Party, and the Commoners Party of Thailand have been invited in (Thai) alphabetical order to avoid allegations of preferential treatment.

Reform has ‘never been more obtainable' The Nation 14th Feb 2017
As a former leader of political groups standing up against past governments for their failure to run the country properly – to the point that could have plunged the nation into failed-state status – Suriyasai Katasila realises only too well how vital it is that reform takes place. Under the military-installed government, Suriyasai, now a director of the Thai Reform Institute at Rangsit University, still keeps an eye on the administration’s promise to deliver reform. And like other observers, Suriyasai believes there will never be a better time than now to make it happen, as the government has absolute power that no one can compete against. “What matters most is the understanding of the root cause of the problems and the need for reform,” said Suriyasai, a former co-leader of the now-defunct People’s Alliance for Democracy, and the former People’s Reform Democratic Committee (PDRC).

Defense & Security

America's 'absence' a blessing in disguise for Thailand: The Nation Columnist The Straits Times 20th Feb 2017
Thailand will soon announce officially the purchase of three Yuan Class S26T Chinese-made submarines worth 13.5 billion baht (S$547 million) each after a year of negotiations and study. The procurement of such a mammoth amount of military hardware has both symbolic and strategic significance. The Thai Navy's long delayed decision could mean the United States-Thai alliance no longer occupies the same stature in the overall scheme of security priorities in Thailand. The new Thai-China strategic alliance is gaining strength by the day - a virtual alliance in the making. It has become a new barometer showing the Thai security apparatus' preference towards China for broader security surveillance and protection, especially to address the force imbalance in the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand.

What a Japan-Thailand weapons transfer agreement would mean The China Post 14th Feb 2017
Japan is currently drafting a legal framework with Thailand to allow the future transfer of its defense equipment and technology. Japan is currently drafting a legal framework with Thailand to allow the future transfer of its defense equipment and technology. If that happens soon, it would represent a significant milestone in their mutual defense cooperation since the end of World War II. Thailand collaborated with Japan during the war but turned around at the end of war and sided with the allied forces. Both countries are now part of the U.S.-dominated alliance. During the Vietnam conflict, the U.S. maintained over 100,000 troops and hundreds of aircraft in Thailand as its forward bases to counter the threat of communism.

Japan may offer military trucks to ASEAN Nikkei Asian Review 19th Feb 2017
TOKYO -- Japan, trying to enhance defense cooperation with Southeast Asia, wants to offer ASEAN nations second-hand transport vehicles from its Ground Self Defense Force. Japan wants to talk with recipient countries -- such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia -- as early as this summer.


UTCC downplays Trump trade tactics Bangkok Post 1st Mar 2017
Thai exports are expected grow this year despite the protectionist policies of US President Donald Trump, according to the latest study of the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC). Aat Pisanwanich, director of the Center for International Trade Studies at the UTCC, said Thailand is likely to fetch 17.24 billion baht from higher direct exports to the US market if Mr Trump imposes a punitive 45% tariff on imports from China to retaliate against the latter's currency-weakening policy. The study predicted greater exports of electrical appliances, machinery, furniture and knitting apparel. It did not take into account oil prices and foreign exchange factors. Mr Aat said Thailand could reap higher export value if the two factors were included.

Economic growth forecast set to be revised up The Nation 27th Feb 2017
The Fiscal Policy Office (FPO) may raise its economic growth estimate for this year if the economic figures continue improving. Krisda Chinavicharana, FPO director-general, said: “Early this year, [economic] factors, particularly exports, came better than expected. However, we may have to watch them for a longer period. If they continue to improve, we may have to revise our estimates. Usually, we consider revision every three months.”

January exports up 8.8% year-on-year Bangkok Post 27th Feb 2017
Customs-cleared exports rose for a third straight month in January, but by slightly less than expected. Exports were up 8.8% in January from a year earlier, following December's 6.2% increase, Commerce Ministry data showed on Monday. A Reuters poll predicted a 9.85% increase for January.

Corporate investment tipped to rise in 2017 The Nation 26th Feb 2017
Following the investment trend, the bank is targeting corporate loan growth of up to six per cent this year. The figure was just 4 per cent last year. Wasin said the bank had advised its corporate customers with overseas investments, or who had businesses or traded overseas, to manage their business currency by hedging the currency when the baht fluctuation between Bt34 and Bt36 per US dollar. “This is the effect from Trump’s policies that have impacted on global currencies to the point that we have had suggest that our customers hedge their currency when they have overseas businesses,” he said. He said most Thai corporates had healthy finances and had more cash to expand their investments nationally and internationally.

Car exports for January drops 14.53 percent, the lowest in 19 months Thai PBS English News 23rd Feb 2017
The number of fully-assembled cars exported for the month of January was registered at 80,097 units, representing a drop of 14.53 percent compared to a month earlier which was the lowest in 19 months, said Mr Surapong Paisitpattanapong, vice chairman and spokesman of the automotive sector of the Federation of Thai Industries, on Thursday. He noted that export of pickup trucks to all markets dropped with the exception of markets in Australia and northern America with the export value amounting to 41.42 billion baht, representing 18.1 percent decline.

Industrial confidence index drops first time in 5 months Thai PBS English News 23rd Feb 2017
Thailand's industrial confidence index has fallen for the first time in five months with uncertainty in the global economic outlook being a reason to blame. This was disclosed yesterday by the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI). FTI said statistics for the Industrial Confidence Index for January of this year showed it fell to 87.2 points from 88.5 in December 2016. This is the first time that the index has fallen in a five-month period. Growing uncertainty over the global economic outlook was attributed primarily to the fall.

Thailand's Growth Weakens to One-Year Low as Consumption Eases 20th Feb 2017
Thailand’s economy grew at the slowest pace in a year last quarter as private consumption moderated. Key Points Gross domestic product expanded 3 percent from a year earlier, the National Economic and Social Development Board said in Bangkok on Monday. That is the slowest in a year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg The median estimate of 20 economists surveyed by Bloomberg was 3 percent GDP grew 0.4 percent from the previous three months, compared with the 0.7 percent median estimate Thai economy grew 3.2 percent in 2016 from 2.9 percent in 2015

New law to make Thailand more competitive in targeted industries The Nation 15th Feb 2017
A law aiming to enhance Thailand’s competitiveness in targeted industries came into force yesterday, waiving corporate income taxes for up to 15 years and subsidising investment expenses for research and development and innovation. Hiranya Sujinai, secretary-general of the Board of Investment, said His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn had announced the National Competitive Enhancement Act for Targeted Industries, BE 2560 (2017), on Monday in the Royal Gazette. According to the act, investment incentives will be widened to make Thailand more competitive with other countries, drawing in targeted industries to invest in here. The industries that are in line with Thailand’s capabilities will be focused on, while enriching the country’s competitiveness with sustainability.

New company registrations expected to hit 4-year high The Nation 15th Feb 2017
The number of new company registrations in Thailand this year is expected to rise to the highest level in four years, following more investment by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as well as stepped-up registration by gold shops, the Business Development Department said yesterday. Last month, 6,279 new companies were registered in the Kingdom, a year-on-year increase of 9 per cent. However, the combined initial investment value of these new businesses was down 42 per cent, at Bt16.49 billion, as most of the registrations were by SMEs, whose initial capital was considerably lower than the average invested by new enterprises in January last year.


Krabi coal plant to start anew Bangkok Post 1st Mar 2017
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has insisted that new environmental and health impact assessments are needed for the Krabi coal-fired power plant project and the public must be allowed to have their say. Speaking after Tuesday's cabinet meeting, Gen Prayut stressed the need to restart the environmental health impact assessment (EHIA) and environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the controversial power plant project from the beginning. He added that all sectors must be allowed to take part in the processes with forums to be opened to listen to the public's views on energy issues.

OAG starts wind farm 'collusion' inquiry Bangkok Post 27th Feb 2017
The Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) has started an investigation into whether there was a conflict of interest between the private sector and state authorities in the land lease project for wind farm projects. Auditor-General Pisit Leelavachiropas said Sunday that the agency has been examining whether there were "conflicts of interest" in allocating Sor Por Kor land to private firms operating wind farms, when it was specifically supposed to go to landless farmers. The agency is looking into the actions of former executives of the Agricultural Land Reform Office (Alro), which oversees the land allocation, and members of the government in power when the land lease was approved. State officials and policymakers connected to the land lease would be investigated to see if they committed negligence of duty or failed to protect the state's interests as well for any conflicts of interest, he said, insisting the act was a misuse of the Sor Por Kor land which was meant to be allotted to farmers for agricultural purposes only. The Sor Por Kor land lease to private firms was initiated in 2009.

Financial Services

Thailand Insurance Market Liberalization: Relaxation of Foreign Shareholding Limits Lexology 28th Feb 2017
The latest regulatory changes which are expected to bolster the Thai insurance industry even further are the Ministry of Finance’s two Notifications, published in the Government Gazette on January 18, 2017, which relax the foreign shareholding (up to 100%) and board limits for life and non-life insurance companies, for the purpose of promoting stability for insurance companies and the insurance industry.

SET lays ground for trading in startups Bangkok Post 28th Feb 2017
The Stock Exchange of Thailand will roll out a blockchain-based marketplace for trading in startups by the third quarter of 2017. With blockchain technology, there are no restrictions on trading units and only institutional, high-net-worth and experienced investors such as venture capital funds or angel investors are permitted to trade on the market, said SET president Kesara Manchusree. Investors in both the SET and the Market for Alternative Investment (MAI), a stock exchange for smaller companies, typically trade in board lots, or units of 100. The marketplace idea for startups came in response to instructions from Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, who said the SET should consider a facility for startup fund-raising.

Costly Insurance in Thailand Bloomberg 23rd Feb 2017
The $3 billion valuation Siam Commercial Bank Pcl is seeking for part or all of its life unit looks too high, yet the promise of improving on Thailand's low insurance penetration levels has attracted at least five bidders, including the pan-Asian giant AIA Group Ltd. and Prudential Plc of the U.K.Others after a piece of the country's fifth-largest insurer by assets -- and the privilege of selling through the parent bank's 1,000 branches -- include Thai billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi in partnership with Singapore’s Great Eastern Holdings Ltd.; Canada's Manulife Financial Corp.; and Hong Kong tycoon Richard Li’s FWD Group, Bloomberg News reports.

Food & Agriculture

Thailand to stop sugar subsidy by year-end Bangkok Post 21st Feb 2017
The government will stop subsidising sugar production and drop domestic control of consumer prices for sugar by the end of the year, a Ministry of Agriculture official said on Tuesday. Brazil challenged Thailand at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in March last year, arguing that Thailand's subsidies for sugar producers have dragged down global prices.

Agriculture Dept to slap controls on farm chemicals Bangkok Post 17th Feb 2017
The Department of Agriculture wants to control the use of agricultural chemicals, including those on its watch list, raising hopes of increased food safety. Suwit Chaikiattiyos, its director-general, said Thursday the Hazards Act lets the department control the amount of potentially harmful chemicals used, to alleviate the effect on people's health and the environment. The law also limits imports of harmful chemicals or allows for the import of safer substitutes. The department says there are 11 chemicals on the watch list, mostly categorised as insecticides, such as aldicarb, methomyl and oxamyl. Oxamyl is already banned in the United States. Herbicides remain common farm-related chemical imports, according to the department. Its figures show a steady decline in herbicide imports, which stood at 119,971 tonnes last year, down from 137,049 tonnes in 2013. By contrast, insecticide imports have fallen sharply, from 21,485 tonnes in 2013 down to 11,016 tonnes last year.

Health & Life Sciences

Govt denies it will scrap gold card scheme Bangkok Post 22nd Feb 2017
The government spokesman has dismissed as totally groundless speculation on social media that the gold card health insurance scheme run by the National Health Security Office (NHSO) will be scrapped because of budget constraints. Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd said not only are the reports untrue, the Public Health Ministry and NHSO plan to provide additional healthcare services to gold card holders. He said the Budget Bureau will allocate the NHSO 128.5 billion baht from the 2018 budget, or 3,197.32 baht per head, an rise of about 87.75 baht per head from 2017.  The budget allocation for the scheme had been on the rise for the past two or three years.

How Thailand Eliminated Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission Asian Scientist Magazine 15th Feb 2017
Thailand has become the first Asian country to eliminate mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV, thanks to a pragmatic multi-sector response backed by strong political commitment and heavy government investment, a study published in Paediatrics and International Child Health reports. Such an early, concerted response allowed the country to successfully address the recommended World Health Organization (WHO) elimination strategy. As a result, MTCT rates were reduced from 20-40 percent in the mid-1990s to 1.9 percent in 2015 (surpassing the WHO elimination target of The WHO strategy focuses on the following four prongs: primary prevention of HIV in women of childbearing age; prevention of unintended pregnancies in women living with HIV; prevention of HIV transmission from an HIV-infected woman to her infant; and provision of appropriate treatment, care and support to women and children living with HIV.

Healthcare budget hit The Nation 14th Feb 2017
THE growing elderly population is putting pressure on the universal healthcare scheme, forcing officials to seek fresh funding. The National Health Security Office (NHSO), which operates the scheme, has submitted a Bt164-billion budget request for the next fiscal year but ended up getting just Bt151 billion. “We have had concerns about such budget constraints,” Dr Jadej Thammatach-aree, deputy secretary-general of the NHSO, said yesterday. His office may have to request further funding later, he said.


Spending on public cloud services gathering pace Bangkok Post 27th Feb 2017
Thailand's spending on public cloud services will continue to gather steam in 2017, with the market estimated to be worth US$221 million (7.73 billion baht), says global research firm IDC. A recent notification by the Bank of Thailand allowing the use of cloud in IT outsourcing services for the banking and financial sectors is expected to give a further boost to the adoption of public cloud computing, said Jarit Sidhu, research manager of IDC Asia Pacific. "2017 can expect to see more growth than ever before, up from $169 million in 2016 and $127 million in 2015," he said.

New agencies to sort out ICT overlap Bangkok Post 25th Feb 2017
The Digital Economy and Society (DE) Ministry will set up two state enterprises to manage and operate the ICT infrastructure of TOT Plc and CAT Telecom by July, in a drive to reduce unnecessary technological duplication in the telecom industry. The two enterprises, National Broadband Co (NBN) and Next Generation Data Centre Co (NGDC), are expected to start renting networks of the two telecom enterprises to private telecom companies by 2018. NBN, to be operated by TOT, will manage all domestic networks of TOT and CAT and provide rental services to private companies under a wholesale model. NGDC, to be operated by CAT, will take charge of submarine cables and data centres for both state enterprises and provide rental services locally and overseas. DE Minister Pichet Durongkaveroj said the development is in line with the State Enterprises Policy Commission's directive that TOT and CAT combine their businesses in order to maximise use of network assets and generate new revenue streams.

Bids awarded for broadband work Bangkok Post 25th Feb 2017
Eight private companies have won the bids to supply optical fibre cable and broadband-related equipment to TOT Plc for the installation of the national broadband network across the country. The total price of the eight bids was 3.2 billion baht, or 25% lower than the reserve price of 4.27 billion set by the state telecom enterprise, said TOT president Monchai Noosong. TOT announced the winning bidders for the project yesterday. There were 31 tenders submitting bid documents containing both the price proposals and technical proposals to supply fibre-optical cable and broadband equipment to TOT on Feb 10.

11street launched in Thailand Koreatimes 16th Feb 2017
SK Planet has launched 11street in Thailand, becoming Korea's first business to open an online marketplace in the Southeast Asian country, the company said Thursday. Korean actor Song Joong-ki and Thai actress Mew Nittha ― the two official models of the e-commerce platform ― attended the opening ceremony held on the same day at Central World in Bangkok. Korea's leading e-commerce firm has put ads up at busy streets in Siam and Phrom Phong, and plans to broadcast TV commercials there as well. Thailand is the fourth overseas market where the SK Telecom unit has opened its online mall. The platform debuted in Turkey in 2013 as n11, in Indonesia in 2014 as elevenia, and in Malaysia in 2015 as 11street.

Cloud and blockchain technology to drive Thailand’s digital transformation South China Morning Post 14th Feb 2017
Cloud computing, the Internet of Things, big data analytics, blockchain and artificial intelligence will be five digital technology trends affecting enterprise transformation in Thailand this year, says a major software firm. “Thailand has Asia-Pacific’s second-highest growth rate for Microsoft cloud service adoption, in part because of the country’s digital infrastructure readiness and companies driving towards digital transformation,” said Orapong Thien-Ngern, general manager of Microsoft (Thailand), the local operating unit of US software maker Microsoft.


New superboard set to commence Bangkok Post 25th Feb 2017
The newly appointed superboard for overseeing procurement at state agencies is set to take action, starting with seven double-track rail projects. Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak said the superboard for procurement will be chaired by former central bank governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul, with other members including Kan Trakulhoon, former president and chief executive of Siam Cement Group; Manas Jamveha, former director-general of the Comptroller-General's Department; and Sompol Kiatpaiboon, former permanent secretary for commerce. Other members include the director-general of the Budget Bureau, the secretary-general of the Council of State, the director-general of the State Enterprise Policy Office, the director-general of the Office of the Attorney General and the director-general of the Comptroller-General's Department.