Thailand Update: January 11, 2018

Thailand Update | January 11, 2018
Authors: Matt Solomon, Ella Duangkaew
 
LOOKING AHEAD
 
 
June 27-28, 2018: Please save the date for the 2018 Thailand Business Mission, scheduled to take place on June 27-28, 2018 in Bangkok. Please contact Ella Duangkaew at eduangkaew@usasean.org with any questions. 
 
THE COUNCIL'S TAKE
 
 

FDA Releases Draft Regulation Banning Trans Fats

On December 28, the Thai Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a draft regulation banning the use of trans fats in foods. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (which contains an unofficial translation of the regulation), the regulation specifically prohibits the use of partially hydrogenated oils in foods due to evidence that consuming trans fats, which are derived from partially hydrogenated oils, increases the risk of coronary heart disease. The restriction would apply to foods both produced in and imported into Thailand.

The regulation is open for comments until January 28, 2018. Information on how to submit comments can be found on the World Trade Organization’s website here. The proposed dates of adoption and publication of the regulation are still to be determined, however the regulation states that the policy will come into force one year after it is published in the Royal Gazette. The ban aligns with the current global movement to phase out partially hydrogenated oils by 2020. In the U.S., in 2015 the FDA required providers to eliminate the ingredient by 2018, according to the Bangkok Post. However, the ban is costly to food providers, particularly to cooking oil producers who have to adjust their products; in the U.S., the US FDA estimated that the trans fat ban could cost food suppliers around $6.2 billion.

However, the ban may prove beneficial to the palm oil sector in Thailand, which primarily produces for the domestic market. According to the Bangkok Post, the government has already taken many steps to stimulate the production of palm oil, including the development of a Palm Oil and Palm Oil Industries Development Strategy for 2015-2026 to increase palm oil plantation by 3 million rai and production to 21 million tons. When the U.S. mandated labelling of trans fats in 2003, palm oil imports by 552% from 2003-13; there may be a similar boost to the Thai palm oil market following a trans fat ban in Thailand. It is unclear when the ban will concretely come into effect, but it will be interesting to see how the ban may negatively or positively impact food and cooking oil suppliers. Should the ban come into effect, it will be the first complete ban in ASEAN. In 2012, Singapore passed amendments to its Food Regulations that limited the amount of trans fat that could be in foods sold in retail stores (see here for more information), but has not instituted a ban. In 2013, the 14th Congress of the Philippines proposed an Act to ban trans fats (found here), but the act was not passed. If Thailand’s ban comes into effect, it may serve as a model for other ASEAN nations to formulate regulations addressing trans fats.

Excise Department Considering Consumption Tax

On January 4, Director-General of the Thai Excise Department, Krisada Chinavicharana, stated that staff at the department have been instructed to study the idea of placing a consumption-based tax on goods deemed to negatively impact consumer health and the environment, to reduce incentives to consume these products. According to the Director-General, the idea would be similar to a value-added tax (VAT) collection that requires consumers to pay a 7% tax on goods and services. The department staff are studying implementations of consumption-based excise taxes in other countries, where taxes range from 1-3% of product prices.

The Director-General affirmed that the principle of the idea is that products that pose higher threats to consumer health and the environment should pay a higher tax rate; and placing a higher tax liability on consumers for each purchase of these products may help reduce consumption. According to the Director-General, past increases of excise taxes based on production have not reduced consumption. It thus appears that the department is considering a new strategy with a consumption-based tax.

The Department is also being tasked by the Finance Ministry to generate around 600 million baht of tax revenue for Fiscal Year 2018, according to the Director-General. Excise tax revenue has already expanded by 3-4% annually, particularly following the adoption of a new excise tax law in September 2017, which bases excise tax collection on retail price, among other changes (for more information on the new excise tax law, see here). A new consumption-based tax could help achieve the department’s revenue and consumer behavior goals, but may also burden operations for producers of these goods. It remains to be seen if the department’s study will lead to the introduction of a tax measure, but it will be important to continue monitoring the department’s activities. The Council will look to engage with the Excise Department to determine the progress and direction of the study, and how the private sector can provide input into the process.

 
IN THIS UPDATE
 
 
Regional Affairs
Thailand prepares to show Asean leadership
Cross-border deal 'doesn't need House nod'

National Affairs
New conflict of interest bill gets tough on officials
Election censorship to apply to social media
Disabled foreigners to get tax break
Junta’s popularity at lowest level since 2014 coup: survey
Local body polls likely in May-July
Public logs 90,000 complaints with govt
Junta’s road map to democracy is full of detours
Generals retain strong presence in cabinet after reshuffle
Thai vote in UN 'won't hurt US ties'
Prayut orders 'reset' of parties
Junta order raises doubts about poll in November

Customs
Bangkok Port set to open new customs department
Thailand joining live operation of ASEAN Single Window

Defense & Security
No military depot, says US
CSD commandos to get advanced weaponry in 2018
PM defends changes to security law
Thais, Laos step up security ties

Economics
Minimum wage hike agreed, details to be discussed
Exports seen rising 5.5% in 2018 - Shippers' Council
OIC tightens noose on agent violators
BoT ready to curb baht if needed
Six strategies targeted for development
Excise eyes consumption tax
EEC tapped to drive 4% GDP expansion
Thailand's economic growth seen waning in 2018
Economy the priority in 2018, says govt
E-donation adopted for taxpayer deductions
Excise Dept launches nightspot crackdown

Energy
Egat market quota to end
Rising oil prices expected to drive inflation in 2018

Financial Services
BOT clarifies on Phillip Securities’ Bitcoin futures trading service
Thailand, China central banks renew swap deal
SEC says bitcoin futures trading not against rules
Thailand, India risk being added to US currency watchlist
Nationwide e-payments to push cashless society goal

Food & Agriculture
Prayut to push for sustainable water use at meeting of Mekong countries
Strong baht to depress 2018 exports
Data centre planned to secure farm prices
Ban on trans fat could boost palm oil
Rice exports at record high in 2017
New campaign promotes premium grade rice
Lands dept to advance law to protect forests from fraudulent claims
Ministry report to call on govt to increase farmer incomes
Global push planned for Thai farm sector
Pinched farm incomes hit purchasing power
Bioeconomy to give boost to agriculture

Health & Life Sciences
Public health budget hike of 13% sought
Ministry gives in on charging ban
Thailand joins tri-nation haze battle plan
Healthcare scheme a transplant lifesaver for over 3,000 Thais
Co-payments near reality as universal healthcare system reformed: minister

ICT
Prayut agrees to digital TV subsidies
Ministry eyes innovation loan
New NBTC board to take helm in March
E-business tax targeted to fill coffers
Reform panel agrees to ease digital TV debt
270,000 researchers to drive innovation, industry
New digital marketplaces seek to reshape economy
Thai e-commerce targets leader status in Asean
BoI predicts 50% boost for robotics

Infrastructure
Transport's the winning ticket
Cabinet backs B4bn for subsidised housing
Wave of rail links to slash logistics costs
Tax deductions approved for touring 55 provinces
Crackdown on road control
Construction of Thai-Chinese railway begins
 
ARTICLE CLIPS
 
 
Regional Affairs

Thailand prepares to show Asean leadership Bangkok Post 2nd Jan 2018
As Thailand climbs back onto the world stage its foreign policy is likely to take on a more prominent role this year, when the kingdom celebrates 200 years of ties with the United States and Bangkok prepares to take over the chair of Asean in 2019. EU ministers agreed near the end of 2017 to resume political contacts "at all levels" with Thailand after a freeze lasting more than three years, lending new legitimacy to the 2014 coup-installed government as it looks to the transition to democracy via the much-anticipated general election in November. This is also the final year of Thailand's role as a coordinator of Asean-EU relations and the end of the latest four-year strategic plan rolled out by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Cross-border deal 'doesn't need House nod' Bangkok Post 21st Dec 2017
The memorandum of understanding (MoU) on trans-border freight involving the customs authorities of Thailand and Cambodia does not require prior parliamentary approval to take effect, the Constitutional Court has concluded. The court ruled yesterday the MoU does not need House approval to be legally binding as it does not affect the country's economic, social or trade security. However, the court has determined the MoU to be an agreement under Section 178 of the constitution.

National Affairs

New conflict of interest bill gets tough on officials The Nation 9th Jan 2018
The new conflict of interest bill for state officers will prohibit the receipt of gifts as well as abuse or misuse of state resources and power, with penalties of up to five years in jail. An opinion-gathering session yesterday also heard that the bill, which is being scrutinised by legislators, will be imposed not only on state officials but also on their parents, siblings, biological or adopted children, sons- and daughters-in law and grandchildren. Participants at the session expressed concern that the strict law could draw superfluous complaints and unnecessarily put officials into difficult predicaments.

Election censorship to apply to social media Bangkok Post 4th Jan 2018
Election candidates will be required to register for vote-canvassing on electronic and social media, according to the current draft of the organic law governing the election of MPs. The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) committee vetting the bill has finished the first round of deliberation for all 178 sections of the law, said spokesman Taweesak Suthakavatin. The bill was submitted to the NLA by the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) on Nov 28, along with another organic bill related to the Senate.

Disabled foreigners to get tax break Bangkok Post 4th Jan 2018
The cabinet has approved in principle a draft ministerial regulation that will grant tax exemptions for non-Thai taxpayers with disabilities, worth up to 190,000 baht in their personal income tax assessment. But they must have a disability certificate approved by the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, which operates under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, and be aged 65 or younger, Nattaporn Jatusripitak, an adviser to the minister of the PM's Office, said after Wednesday's cabinet meeting. The legislation, which is connected to the Revenue Code, will be applied to income from the beginning of last year, he said.

Junta’s popularity at lowest level since 2014 coup: survey The Nation 4th Jan 2018
The junta's popularity rating has touched the lowest level since it came to power following a military coup in May 2014, hitting lows seen by the civilian government that it overthrew, according to the results of the latest survey by security agencies. The good news for the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) was it enjoyed higher popularity in the Northeast where most supporters of the ousted Pheu Thai-led government live, the opinion poll found. In some northeastern provinces, such as Nakhon Phanom, the junta’s popularity has doubled. This could be due to the benefits reaped by residents under junta rule, including higher rice prices.

Local body polls likely in May-July Bangkok Post 3rd Jan 2018
Elections for local administrative organisations (LAOs) are likely to be organised from May to July, according to the Department of Local Administration (DLA). DLA director-general Suttipong Juljarern said members of the LAOs have their tenures expire in May and the Interior Ministry proposed the polls for provincial administrative organisations (PAOs) and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) should be held first since holding polls for LAOs at all levels simultaneously would cause trouble. Afterwards, elections for municipalities, tambon administrative organisations (TAOs) and Pattaya City would be held, he said.

Public logs 90,000 complaints with govt Bangkok Post 1st Jan 2018
More than 90,000 complaints were lodged with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the military regime last year with noise pollution from entertainment venues and teenage motorcycle racing ranking as the top public nuisances. Sompas Nilapund, deputy permanent secretary of the the Prime Minister's Office, yesterday said a total of 90,606 public complaints were submitted to the office's Public Service Centre last year. So far, the government had addressed 80,984 (89.3%) of them, and was in the process of seeking solutions for the remaining 9,622.

Junta’s road map to democracy is full of detours The Nation 30th Dec 2017
The junta's promised road map to democracy has arrived at a crucial stage as the completion of the organic laws draws near and the junta head General Prayut Chan-o-cha has promised the world’s superpower, the United States, that an election will take place in late 2018. But the road remains bumpy and difficult, and uncertainty remains. When it toppled an elected government and took power in 2014 after a long-running street demonstration, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) vowed to return happiness to the people and to return the country to a genuine democracy following its road map. The road map has since been at the heart of the regime and its promise, to the Thai people and to the world, to re-establish civilian rule. But somehow, this plan has become dynamic and has been extended on several occasions.

Generals retain strong presence in cabinet after reshuffle Bangkok Post 27th Dec 2017
Several key ministers who are military generals survived the cut in the latest cabinet line-up. Only three ministers in uniform got the chop, underlining critics' claim that the government is reluctant to share power. Economic issues were thought to be a primary reason for the recent shake-up as the government has struggled to tackle problems in this area and wanted to place an emphasis on boosting the economy. Political watchers were also waiting to see if the reshuffle would mark a shift away from the government's "junta" image as the country transitions towards democracy with a general election tentatively set for November 2018.

Thai vote in UN 'won't hurt US ties' Bangkok Post 23rd Dec 2017
Thailand's decision to join 127 other countries at the United Nations in opposing US President Donald Trump's move to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital is unlikely to hurt Thai-US relations, a government official said on Friday. The vote on Thursday took place despite Mr Trump's threat to cut off aid to any country that opposed him. "Thai-US relations have many aspects. We cooperate in many areas and we have not received financial assistance from the US for many years as our status is no longer 'a receiver'," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Busadee Santipitaks said.

Prayut orders 'reset' of parties Bangkok Post 23rd Dec 2017
A Section 44 order to "reset" the status of political parties' members has been issued by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha with members of existing parties being given the freedom to switch to other parties. The move has fuelled growing suspicion that the regime is paving the way for a military-backed political party expected to be established to draw members of existing parties to back it and support Gen Prayut and the regime staying in power after an election. The Section 44 order was published in the Royal Gazette last night with immediate effect. Section 44 of the previous 2017 interim charter has been carried over into the new constitution.

Junta order raises doubts about poll in November The Nation 22nd Dec 2017
The ban on political activities will stay until the organic law on the election of MPs comes into effect, according to the latest junta order.  The latest use of Article 44, which allows political parties to engage in administrative work, has raised concerns of a delay in the road map to the election scheduled for November 2018, according to observers. Junta chief and Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday used Article 44 to allow political parties to implement the administrative work required under the political party law, while keeping the ban on political activities in effect.

Customs

Bangkok Port set to open new customs department Bangkok Post 6th Jan 2018
Bangkok Port is planning to offer a 15-20% discount on its logistics services as it is set to open its own customs department at the port in mid-March, to ease cargo ship queues at Laem Chabang Port in Chon Buri. The discounts will apply to all logistics costs at Bangkok Port, including crane operating costs and packing cargo into containers before they are placed back onto their ships, said the port's managing director, Komol Sribangpleenoi. He said cargo which has been cleared by Bangkok Port's customs will not have to receive a double inspection once they reach Laem Chabang Port in Chon Buri.

Thailand joining live operation of ASEAN Single Window Asia Customs & Trade 26th Dec 2017
A fifth member state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will be joining next month the transit to the live operation of the ASEAN Single Window (ASW) for the electronic exchange of Form D under the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (ATIGA). Singapore Customs in a new update said Thailand is the latest member to signify its participation in the live operation of the ASW for the electronic exchange of Form D under ATIGA, which is scheduled to commence in January. “With effect from 1 Jan 2018, Thailand will join Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Viet Nam to commence live operation of the ASW for the electronic exchange of Form D under the ATIGA,” said Singapore Customs in a notice released December 20.

Defense & Security

No military depot, says US Bangkok Post 4th Jan 2018
The United States Embassy in Bangkok denied yesterday that Washington has sought to build a military service depot in Thailand but a source close to the matter insisted the rumour was both credible and accurate. No such proposal was made by the United States at the recently concluded 4th Defence Strategic Talks (DSTs), according to Jillian Bonnardeaux, a spokeswoman for the embassy. Ms Bonnardeaux was referring to a front page story published in the Bangkok Post on Jan 3 titled "US seeks to build military service depot".

CSD commandos to get advanced weaponry in 2018 Bangkok Post 31st Dec 2017
The Crime Suppression Division (CSD)'s special operations or commando unit, now armed with a 2018 budget of 200 million baht, will be equipped with modern weapons equivalent to those used by police in the United States and European countries to better cope with crimes and terrorism, said unit commander Pol Col Torsak Sukwimol. Pol Col Torsak said that last year the commando unit was allocated a budget of about 40 million baht to acquire weapons and other equipment, including vehicles, via the Royal Thai Police (RTP)'s Quartermaster Division. Over the past year, he said, the unit has successfully carried out operations that ranged from house searches and drug suppression to the arrest of gunmen protected by influential politicians at both local and national levels.

PM defends changes to security law Bangkok Post 23rd Dec 2017
The recent amendment to the security law governing the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) was to give the agency a legal tool to help it effectively mitigate natural disaster threats, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha insisted yesterday. Gen Prayut stressed the change to the law, which took effect last month, was not politically motivated as suggested by critics but was introduced to facilitate Isoc operations in the area of natural disaster mitigation. Gen Prayut invoked his Section 44 powers last month to amend internal security legislation to set up the Internal Security Administration Committee to help Isoc deal with domestic threats.

Thais, Laos step up security ties Bangkok Post 22nd Dec 2017
Thailand and Laos have agreed to step up cooperation to identify and locate people considered to be threats to the security of both nations, a Thai defence spokesman says. The agreement was reached when Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon met Lao Defence Minister Chansamone Chanyalath in Vientiane to attend the 24th meeting of the Thai-Lao General Border Committee (GBC) yesterday, Kongcheep Tantrawanit said. They discussed improving cooperation on overall security issues and agreed to boost cooperation against illicit drugs and "groups of people who threaten the security", Lt Gen Kongcheep said.

Economics

Minimum wage hike agreed, details to be discussed Bangkok Post 10th Jan 2018
The national wage committee has agreed to an increase in the minimum wage, but just how big it will be has been put off until talks next week. Permanent secretary for labour Jarin Jakkaphark said on Wednesday the meeting had approved in principle on a daily wage increase in all provinces, but details will have to be thrashed out at the next round of talks set for Jan 17. The unsettled details underline the differences between employers and workers, both sending their representatives to attend the tripartite meeting with officials at the Labour Ministry.

Exports seen rising 5.5% in 2018 - Shippers' Council Bangkok Post 9th Jan 2018
The country's exports are expected to rise 5.5% this year after increasing at least 10% in 2017, a group of Thai shippers said on Tuesday. Thailand's exports, which shrank for three years before a solid rebound in 2017, are likely to rise 5.5% this year, a group of Thai shippers said on Tuesday. The Thai National Shippers' Council said exports are climbing ,thanks to improved global demand, but a strong baht is a threat.

OIC tightens noose on agent violators Bangkok Post 8th Jan 2018
The Office of the Insurance Commission (OIC) continues to tighten supervision on insurance intermediaries in a bid to protect consumers after it revoked the licences of 50 insurance agents and a broker during the first nine months of last year. "The OIC has a policy to supervise the selling of insurance products and all intermediary channels by randomly inspecting representative and insurance broker offices nationwide," said Suthipol Taweechaikarn, the secretary-general. The office revoked the licences of 50 insurance agents during the first nine months last year.

BoT ready to curb baht if needed Bangkok Post 6th Jan 2018
The Bank of Thailand on Friday issued a verbal intervention, saying it is ready to rein in the baht if the currency strengthens so rapidly that the private sector is damaged. The central bank is monitoring the foreign currency market and will act to stem the baht's rise if the currency gains so quickly that local businesses cannot adjust, said deputy governor Mathee Supapongse.

Six strategies targeted for development Bangkok Post 5th Jan 2018
Thailand's national strategy is centred on six key areas -- farming, services, tourism, entrepreneurship, logistics and digital -- to help raise the country's competitiveness and make it a developed nation in 20 years. Sathit Limpongphan, chairman of a committee tasked with developing a national strategy to strengthen the country's competitiveness, said six strategies that have already been approved by the committee will be implemented to that end.

Excise eyes consumption tax Bangkok Post 4th Jan 2018
The Excise Department is studying a levy on goods deemed to have a negative effect on consumers' health and the environment, in the hopes of reducing incentives to consume such products, says director-general Krisada Chinavicharana. The idea is similar to value-added tax (VAT) collection where consumers are liable to pay a 7% tax on goods and services, said Mr Krisada. Staff at the department have been instructed to study the idea as other countries collect an excise tax based on consumption, which ranges from 1-3% of product prices, he said.

EEC tapped to drive 4% GDP expansion Bangkok Post 3rd Jan 2018
The Finance Ministry is hoping that the beginning of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) project will help drive the country's economic growth above 4% in 2018, says Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong. The ministry's informal forecast for economic growth is 4.1% in 2018, which it feels is conservative because it does not take into account the EEC project, he said. "The EEC will be Thailand's new engine to drive growth," Mr Apisak said. "Without the EEC, our glory will not be seen regardless of what we do in the next 10 years, as our economy will run out of gas before that. Without the EEC, the economy may splutter."

Thailand's economic growth seen waning in 2018 Bangkok Post 2nd Jan 2018
The military government can look to 2017 for the economy’s best performance in five years, but the strength of the recovery is expected to wane. Gross domestic product probably increased 3.8% last year, the fastest pace since 2012, before easing to 3.7% this year and to 3.6% in 2019, according to a Bloomberg survey. Once prized in Southeast Asia for its economic strength, Thailand’s growth is lagging peers with economies in Vietnam and Philippines expanding more than 6%.

Economy the priority in 2018, says govt The Nation 1st Jan 2018
Government spokesman Maj-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the priority would be to boost the economy and tackle bread-and-butter issues. Sansern said the government planned to allocate “an amount of money” to the grassroots, using the tourism and agricultural sectors, as mechanisms to create sustainability in the economy. “Many indexes – such as GDP growth and the inflation rate – are pointing out that the Thai economy has been strengthened,” he said.

E-donation adopted for taxpayer deductions Bangkok Post 27th Dec 2017
The Revenue Department has adopted an e-donation system to help taxpayers claim a tax deduction on donations. "Charitable donations to temples, schools, hospitals and foundations amounting to 50 billion baht a year are used for tax-deductible claims, and the Revenue Department must rebate taxes worth 9 billion," said director-general Prasong Poontaneat. He said adopting the e-donation system is not for examining tax-deductible items, but rather to help donors and taxpayers who do not want to keep donation receipts as evidence for tax claims.

Excise Dept launches nightspot crackdown Bangkok Post 21st Dec 2017
The Excise Department vowed Wednesday to strip the licences of entertainment venues which operate after legal hours, in prohibited zones or sell alcohol to underage people, particularly during the upcoming New Year holidays. Department director-general Krisada Jeenawijarana said random inspections will be launched of entertainment venues, local communities and other target areas nationwide, by a joint force of excise officials and other authorities during the New Year celebrations. Mr Krisada said entertainment venues would break the law if they operate in prohibited zones such as near educational institutes and this was regarded as indirect support for alcohol consumption among teenagers.

Energy

Egat market quota to end Bangkok Post 9th Jan 2018
Energy policymakers plan to end the two-decade quota regime by opening the state-controlled power generation business to private sector competition, says Energy Minister Siri Jirapongphun. The state will remove the special quota (or favoured capacity) of state-owned Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat). The deregulation of power generation will apply to both fossil fuels and renewable energy. Thailand needs to increase power supply and allowing the market to set its price will be essential to developing the power generation industry, he said.

Rising oil prices expected to drive inflation in 2018 Bangkok Post 4th Jan 2018
The government's forecast for inflation this year is 0.6-1.6% on expected increases in oil prices after 2017 saw inflation of 0.66%. The state welfare scheme, relatively high household debt and lower farm prices are expected to keep a damper on inflation prospects. Pimchanok Vonkorpon, director-general of the Trade Policy and Strategy Office, said the forecast is based on an economic growth rate of 3.5-4% this year, Dubai oil prices of US$50-60 per barrel and an exchange rate of 33-35 baht to the US dollar.

Financial Services

BOT clarifies on Phillip Securities’ Bitcoin futures trading service The Nation 9th Jan 2018
Phillip Securities said on Monday that it was ready to provide trading services for investors who want to invest in Bitcoin via the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME). It aims to provide investors Bitcoin investment services 24 hours day. It claims to the first and only brokerage company in Thailand to offer Bitcoin futures trading in the CBOE and CME. Bitcoin futures could also be used to hedge risks, Phillip Securities said. BOT assistant governor Chantavarn Sucharitakul expressed her concern over the company’s claim that it was the only brokerage company in Thailand offering Bitcoin futures trading service. “This statement might mislead investors into believing that its service had got approval from the BOT. The BOT has never legalised Bitcoin as a currency for financial transactions,” she warned.

Thailand, China central banks renew swap deal Bangkok Post 8th Jan 2018
The Bank of Thailand and the central bank of China have agreed on a currency swap agreement to foster their trade and investment ties. The People's Bank of China announced on Monday the decision to extend the swap deal between the two central banks for another three years, the Xinhua news agency reported.

SEC says bitcoin futures trading not against rules Bangkok Post 8th Jan 2018
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has said Thailand’s first bitcoin futures trading service offered by a securities company is not against rules but urged investors to apply caution due to high risks. The SEC issued the statement on Monday after receiving several enquiries about the trading. It did not name the broker but there were reports earlier that Phillip Securities (Thailand) Plc was to first to offer the service, which began late last year. The SEC said the derivatives are traded on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and CBOE Futures Exchange, which are under the supervision of the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Thailand, India risk being added to US currency watchlist Bangkok Post 4th Jan 2018
Thailand and India may have to give freer rein to the baht and rupee this year to avoid triggering US accusations that they’re manipulating their currencies to support exports. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has already exceeded a key threshold on how much it can intervene to curb the rupee’s gains that the US monitors, according to Nomura Holdings Inc. Policy makers in Thailand have also passed this level with the baht, said Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd. Should the two countries’ central banks seek to assuage US concerns -- and avoid a range of possible penalties -- it would likely lead to gains for their currencies, potentially reducing their export competitiveness. 

Nationwide e-payments to push cashless society goal The Nation 1st Jan 2018
As part of Thailand’s aspiration to become a cashless society, the country will soon adopt a new nationwide e-payment method using the so-called QR Code familiar to social media users. The Bank of Thailand has approved plans by five commercial banks to introduce the QR Code e-payment service – Kasikornbank, Siam Commercial Bank, Bangkok Bank, Krungthai Bank and Government Savings Bank.

Food & Agriculture

Prayut to push for sustainable water use at meeting of Mekong countries The Nation 9th Jan 2018
Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha is expected to push for sustainable water use among countries along the lower part of the Mekong River when he attends the 2nd Lancang Mekong Cooperation (LMC) summit in Phnom Penh today. Prayut said yesterday that countries in the lower part of the Mekong – Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam – are “troubled” by dams being built in the upper part of Southeast Asia’s longest river. However it remains unclear how the issue will be addressed at the summit, which is mostly aimed at advancing the newest sub-regional scheme to become a modern cooperation framework.

Strong baht to depress 2018 exports Bangkok Post 5th Jan 2018
Thailand's rice exports are expected to ease this year from an expected record high of 11.2-11.3 million tonnes in 2017 because of rising global demand and the competitiveness of the local grain, says the Thai Rice Exporters Association. President Charoen Laothammatas said the association forecast Thailand's rice exports to dip to 9.5 million tonnes this year because of depleted state rice stocks and lower Thai hom mali fragrant rice output because of heavy rains in many areas. The Agriculture Ministry projects rice production for the 2018 season at 30 million tonnes of paddy rice or 22-23 million tonnes of milled rice, equivalent to last season.

Data centre planned to secure farm prices Bangkok Post 5th Jan 2018
The Commerce Ministry plans to build a real-time commodity data centre to manage inventories, production and marketing strategy to prevent prices from falling, said Chutima Bunyapraphasara, the deputy commerce minister. The data management centre will be distinct from data centres, jointly set up with the Agriculture Ministry, to manage plantations and agriculture zoning, she said.

Ban on trans fat could boost palm oil Bangkok Post 4th Jan 2018
The proposed ban on trans fat will force restaurants and cooking oil makers to modify their products, but the change may be a boon to the palm oil sector, an industry heavily supported by the government's Palm Oil and Palm Oil Industries Development Strategy. In line with the global movement to phase out partially hydrogenated oils by 2020, the government announced this week its intention to ban trans fat, a common ingredient in bakery products, coffee creamers, margarine and frozen foods. Further details of the policy, including the specific percentage of trans fat that will be acceptable under the regulation and when the ban will come into force, have yet to be released.

Rice exports at record high in 2017 Bangkok Post 29th Dec 2017
Rice exports hit an all-time record in 2017, increasing by 14.77% this year to at least 11.25 million tonnes as of Dec 27, the Ministry of Commerce said. The price per tonne has risen above US$1,000 for popular Jasmin fragrant rice, or hom mali. Sales revenue showed significant growth of around 15%, or $4.97 billion (168 billion baht). With a few days still remaining in the calendar year, the export volume was already the highest since Thailand began trading rice.

New campaign promotes premium grade rice Bangkok Post 27th Dec 2017
The Commerce Ministry is planning a new campaign called "Think Rice: Think Thailand", aimed at promoting the export of premium-grade rice instead of focusing on commodity grades, says Deputy Commerce Minister Chutima Bunyapraphasara. She said the scheme is due to kick off in 2018 as a pilot project to raise the export volume of premium-grade rice by around 200,000 tonnes within six months to one year.

Lands dept to advance law to protect forests from fraudulent claims The Nation 21st Dec 2017
The Lands Department has proposed amendments to its land-use laws, in regard to issuance of land deeds, which would result in more thorough scrutiny of the use of vague Sor Khor 1 documents used to claim possession over state land. A letter from the Land Department’s legal bureau has been circulating within the department and also forwarded to a former reformer of the now-defunct National Reform Steering Assembly, which pushed forward the issue in its forest reform expediting plan last year. The idea behind the letter, to protect state land from false claims using the Sor Khor 1 documents, was approved in September by the department’s law scrutiny committee and its director general.

Ministry report to call on govt to increase farmer incomes The Nation 8th Jan 2018
The Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry will put a new package before the Cabinet later this month to help farmers boost their income, according to Deputy Minister Luck Wajananawat. The ministry will ask for the budget to support the measures. The package is expected to focus on ways to boost farmer incomes and develop additional income sources for them. The move is aimed to backstop incomes to prevent future declines and allow them to continue farming. The package will first be introduced for rubber planters.

Global push planned for Thai farm sector The Nation 5th Jan 2018
The National Strategic Committee on Country Competitiveness aims to push Thailand to become a super power in the global agriculture market . The committee has completed and handed over its first draft to the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB), the state think-tank, said committee chairman Sathit Limpongpan, also a former permanent secretary for finance. Sathit says Thailand has an comparative advantage in the agricultural sector, for example it is one of world’s leading rice exporters. There were more than 25 million people depending on the farm sector, or about 38 per cent of country population in 2015. However, the sector accounted for less than 10 per cent of country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Pinched farm incomes hit purchasing power The Nation 29th Dec 2017
CONSUMER purchasing power remains weak despite the country’s economic expansion being sustained in November, the Bank of Thailand said yesterday. A decline in farm incomes held back consumer purchasing power last month, the central bank said. Farmers experienced declines in both agricultural production and product prices. Prices of rubber sheet and palm oil dropped in November, while past severe flooding in the Northeast cut rice production significantly, said the central bank’s monthly economic report released, Farmers’ nominal income dropped 5.5 per cent year on year. The averages income of workers in the non-farm sector remained flat, said the central bank.

Bioeconomy to give boost to agriculture Bangkok Post 28th Dec 2017
The first-ever bioeconomy development plan aimed at promoting more private investment in biotech-related businesses and adding value to farm products is scheduled to go before the cabinet for approval in early 2018. According to Prime Minister's Office Minister Kobsak Phutrakul, related agencies are now considering private-sector proposals presented at the latest meeting of the Pracha Rat steering committee chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak on Dec 15. "The development plan for bioeconomy is expected to be submitted to the cabinet early next year," Mr Kobsak said. "The plan is to conform with the government policy to develop new S-curve industries."

Health & Life Sciences

Public health budget hike of 13% sought Bangkok Post 9th Jan 2018
The rising cost of medicine and hospital visits has prompted the Ministry of Public Health to propose a public health-care budget of 193 billion baht, up 13% from its present level. Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, the public health minister, said the budget has not increased in two years, causing it to fall out of synch with the costs faced by taxpayers. With the ministry's budget constrained by its current cap, the price of medicine and the cost of visits to hospitals or clinics has spiked while the number of patients is also on the rise, he said.

Ministry gives in on charging ban Bangkok Post 8th Jan 2018
The Public Health Ministry has decided not to prohibit staff from using office supplies and assets, or ban the charging of mobile phones. It has pulled its announcement of the bans, which was signed by permanent secretary for public health Jessada Chokdamrongsuk. The announcement, which Dr Jessada signed on Dec 29, prohibited 400,000 ministry staff from charging personal mobile devices at the office, citing the need to set clear boundaries to prevent conflicts of interest.

Thailand joins tri-nation haze battle plan Bangkok Post 3rd Jan 2018
Thailand will cooperate with Myanmar and Laos in a campaign against forest fires in the North later this month as the three countries brace for the approaching summer haze. "We cannot carry out prevention alone," 3rd Army chief Wijak Siribansop said, stressing the need for a joint operation to prevent the transboundary pollution which has caused grave concern among residents who are at risk of breathing tiny dust particles from the haze into their lungs. This problem can be prevented because it's 99% man-made, Lt Gen Wijak said. In his view, residents in affected areas in the three countries are the key to success because their help is essential in preventing fires.

Healthcare scheme a transplant lifesaver for over 3,000 Thais The Nation 24th Dec 2017
Thousands of lives have been saved in almost a decade since organ transplantation had been added to the National Health Security Office’s (NHSO) universal healthcare scheme for Thai citizens, said NHSO deputy secretary-general Dr Chuchai Sornchamni. About 3,634 Thais have received transplants over the past decade under the universal healthcare scheme, according to figures gathered by Chuchai.

Co-payments near reality as universal healthcare system reformed: minister The Nation 2nd Jan 2018
Indications are that patients will have to pay a portion of their medical expenses if and when the proposed National Health Security Bill is passed under the junta government. “After we push through this bill, we will hold serious discussions on co-payments,” Public Health Minister Dr Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn said during a recent exclusive interview with The Nation. He added that there had already been extensive studies on co-payment options.

ICT

Prayut agrees to digital TV subsidies Bangkok Post 10th Jan 2018
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has agreed to ease the financial burden of digital TV operators, with spokesmen claiming the support is out of sympathy for their financial obligations. The Association of Digital TV Operators has urged the government for months to invoke Section 44 to help them weather the industry crisis. The association had asked the government to allow its constituents to delay licence payments (starting from the May due date), as well as offer a chance to exit the TV business.

Ministry eyes innovation loan Bangkok Post 9th Jan 2018
The Science and Technology Ministry plans to ask for cabinet approval to borrow US$300 million (9.67 billion baht) from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to promote science, technology and innovation, to support the government's much-touted Thailand 4.0 scheme. Science and Technology Minister Suvit Maesincee said the ministry is consulting the National Economic and Social Development Board for the loan plan. He said the Finance Ministry has suggested ADB provide experts to help design projects, give advice, evaluate projects and recommend foreign experts to facilitate the activities.

New NBTC board to take helm in March Bangkok Post 9th Jan 2018
The existing National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) board will cease making policy decisions by March when the National Legislative Assembly votes in seven qualified candidates to form a new board. The NLA began its hunt for a new board yesterday. Persons interested in the position can apply until Jan 14, said NBTC secretary-general Takorn Tantasith. The existing eight commissioners (from the original 11) of the NBTC board, including its secretary-general, will continue as the acting board until the new NBTC board is recruited to replace them. Their six-year term ended on Oct 6.

E-business tax targeted to fill coffers Bangkok Post 8th Jan 2018
The Revenue Department estimates its annual tax revenue growth will triple to 15% after the e-business tax, a levy on any online transaction that takes place in Thailand regardless of the e-commerce operator's location, comes into force. The department's tax revenue has increased 5% or 100 billion baht a year on average, but the growth pace will be 15% or 300 billion once the e-business tax is enforced, said Prasong Poontaneat, the department's director-general. The department will conduct a second hearing of the draft e-business tax this month to measure public opinion before proposing it for cabinet approval.

Reform panel agrees to ease digital TV debt Bangkok Post 4th Jan 2018
The national media reform committee is backing a recent government move to help digital TV operators handle their multi-billion-baht debts in its reform proposals. To relieve their financial problems and better help digital TV businesses, the committee has agreed to draft proposals "that are in line with the framework set out by the government and the NBTC [National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission]," committee chairman and permanent secretary to the Prime Minister's Office Jirachai Moonthongroi said. Last month, the NBTC approved suspending terrestrial digital TV operators' licence payments for three years after the operators struggled to meet the high payments after being awarded the TV licences in 2014.

270,000 researchers to drive innovation, industry Bangkok Post 2nd Jan 2018
Thailand is marching toward innovation as it prepares to hire a raft of new researchers over the next two decades, according to plans announced Monday. The National Science Technology and Innovation Policy Office (NSTIPO) will increase the number of its researchers four-fold by 2036 to bolster innovation in industry, said its secretary-general Kitipong Promwong. The agency has 89,617 full-time researchers, or 13.6 per 10,000 population. Just under 50 are state officials and the rest work for private companies.

New digital marketplaces seek to reshape economy The Nation 1st Jan 2018
The age of digital transformation is dawning on Thailand’s economy and society as evidenced by crucial developments in banking, retail and other sectors. The Bank of Thailand reported that commercial banks had shut down nearly 300 bank branches in the country in 2017 as customers moved towards Internet and mobile banking services, ushering in a new era of digital banking. In the meantime, Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) is leading the pack by launching its “SCB Express” concept – fully-automated banking centres in various Bangkok locations.

Thai e-commerce targets leader status in Asean Bangkok Post 27th Dec 2017
The Department of Business Development (DBD) has plans to nurture e-retailing in Thailand over the next few years and make it the highest-valued online market in Southeast Asia. The hope is to dramatically increase online sales with the aim of doubling the aggregate trading value to 5.5 trillion baht by 2021, DBD permanent secretary Kulanee Isadisai said on Wednesday. This was "expected" to take Thailand to Asean leader status in e-commerce.

BoI predicts 50% boost for robotics Bangkok Post 21st Dec 2017
With full government support, private investment value in robotics and automation is expected to grow by 50% next year, compared with 11.4 billion baht of investment value from 48 projects that submitted applications this year to the Board of Investment (BoI), says secretary-general Duangjai Asawachintachit. She said more Thai and foreign companies are submitting applications for BoI incentives and are likely to start real investment in the sector soon. Investment value in the robotics and automation sectors reached 12 billion baht from only eight projects during the government's initial promotion of robotics and automation systems in 2011, said Ms Duangjai.

Infrastructure

Transport's the winning ticket Bangkok Post 8th Jan 2018
This will be an interesting year for Bangkok's infrastructure scene, with the government's unrelenting efforts to bolster development across the country becoming ever more apparent. Whether the copious big-money transport network projects will face more delays or maintain their timeframes, however, is a matter that transport authorities and the government will need to address in the months to come. With an election promised for late this year, the government is hoping many projects will start to deliver.

Cabinet backs B4bn for subsidised housing Bangkok Post 4th Jan 2018
The cabinet yesterday approved 4 billion baht to build houses for low-income earners and allow the private sector to form a joint venture with the government for related construction projects. The cabinet also agreed to allow the Social Security Fund to allocate 5 billion baht for building residences for low-income earners. The programme is the second phase of the Pracha Rat (People's State) housing scheme. Nathporn Chatusripitak, a spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, said the 4 billion baht will be provided by the Government Savings Bank (GSB) and GH Bank.

Wave of rail links to slash logistics costs Bangkok Post 29th Dec 2017
Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak has announced the government plans to shift the country's main transport mode from road and air links to trains following the signing of contracts for five double-track railways. Mr Somkid presided over the signing ceremony for nine contracts between the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) and private contractors on Thursday. They oversee the construction of five first-phase double-track railways worth a total of 69.5 billion baht and covering a cumulative distance of 702 kilometres.

Tax deductions approved for touring 55 provinces Bangkok Post 26th Dec 2017
The cabinet on Tuesday approved annual income tax deductions of up to 15,000 baht for people visiting 55 "second-tier" tourism provinces next year. Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong said tourists' spending on items such as accommodation and food in the 55 provinces from Jan 1 to Dec 31 next year could be claimed as a tax deduction against personal income. This would include not only hotels but also homestay services, he said. Taxpayers would need only to present receipts issued by the service providers with their tax returns.

Crackdown on road control Bangkok Post 21st Dec 2017
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration has launched a project to regulate the use of main roads and pavements across all 50 districts in Bangkok. Speaking during a visit to Thepharak Road, the first road under the pilot project, in Bang Khen district on Tuesday, Bangkok deputy governor Chinnatat Meesuk said one main road in each city district will be chosen to take part in a project, called "5 Nos". The five are: No parking or riding on pavements; no vending stalls which breach City Hall regulations; no erecting unauthorised billboards; no garbage; and no barriers or items to be placed that block pavements.

Construction of Thai-Chinese railway begins Bangkok Post 21st Dec 2017
Construction of the first small stretch of the Thai-Chinese high-speed railway has begun with the official launch of the project on Thursday. It is for only 3.5 kilometres of track between Klang Dong and Pang Asok, two existing train stations, in Pak Ching district, supervised by engineers from China. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha declared the start of work during a ceremony at Mor Lak Hin in tambon Klang Dong in Pak Chong district, Nakhon Ratchasima.