Thailand Update: January 10, 2019

Thailand Update | January 10, 2019
Authors: Riley Smith, Ella Duangkaew, David Mineo
 
LOOKING AHEAD
 
 
February 12/13, 2019: Thailand Committee Call with Ambassador Virachai Plasai: Please join us for a Thailand Committee Call with His Excellency Virachai Plasai, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Thailand to the United States on February 12 9-10 PM ET/February 13 9-10 AM BKK Time. Ambassador Virachai will provide an update on recent political and economic developments in Thailand and the future trajectory of bilateral relations, as Thailand assumes the 2019 ASEAN Chairmanship Year and prepares for elections in February. Click here to register for the call. 
 
THE COUNCIL'S TAKE
 
 

Election to Be Delayed with Coronation Date Set

On January 10, the Thai Election Commission (EC) reported that it would be “impossible” to hold the elections on February 24, as January 10 is the last day that a royal decree can be issued in time for the elections to be held on that date. Election delays appeared likely on January 3, when the Cabinet was originally supposed to issue the decree. However, the Cabinet announced that it was holding off because of a January 1 announcement that the highly-anticipated coronation of Rama X, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, would take place from May 4-6. According to statements made on January 3 by Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, the country’s general elections are likely to be delayed so “post-poll activities” will not overlap with the coronation ceremony. The Deputy Prime Minister affirmed that the elections would be held no later than the May 9 deadline, which is stipulated by the constitution. As of January 6, the Election Commission (EC) has submitted a proposal to the Cabinet to move elections to March 10. According to the Bangkok Post, if the Cabinet agrees to the proposal, it must issue a royal decree with the election date by January 25. The EC requires a minimum of 45 days in between the date the royal decree is published and the election date, though prefers 52 days. This is now the seventh delay in the elections. Since the announcement of a potential delay, politicians have not expressed much objection as long as the polls take place before May 9; their main concern is that the date be clarified as soon as possible so parties can make proper preparations. However, there was a civilian rally of around 200 people on January 8 to keep the February 24 election date, showing strong civilian opposition to further election delays. It is unclear at this point when the new date will be decided, as it currently rests on the Government’s acceptance of the EC’s proposal for a March 10 election date. However, it will be critical for the Government to make a decision as soon as possible to maintain its credibility and alignment with the election roadmap. For more information, please see our Analytical Update here.

High Speed Train Linking Northeast Thailand and Southern Laos Planned After Joint Retreat

On December 14, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his Lao PDR counterpart, Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, attended the third Thailand-Lao PDR Joint Cabinet Retreat (JCR) in Vientiane, Laos. During the meeting, the heads of state signed several MOUs advancing bilateral ties and cooperation in transportation and other sectors.

During the meeting, both parties agreed to promote the joint development of southern Laos and Thailand’s Northeast region (Isan). Thai Minister of Transportation, Mr. Arkhom Termpittayapaisith, said that a planned high-speed train linking Thailand’s Nakhon Ratchasima province—the largest in the country, located in the heartland of the Northeast—with Pakse, Laos, in the country’s southernmost Champasak province would facilitate the joint development of these areas. Additional rail connections were also discussed, which would complement cross-border land transportation along the existing four Thai-Lao friendship bridges spanning the Mekong River, as well as a fifth planned bridge connecting Thailand’s Bung Kan and Laos’ Bolikhamsai provinces. New air connections in Thailand’s Northeast are further examples of the premium the Thai government has placed on its initiative of making the Northeast more accessible.

The Thai and Lao Governments intend for the Nakhon Ratchasima-Pakse rail link to raise the standard of living in the areas along the rail route in part by growing the tourism industry, which is consistent with the Thai Ministry of Transportation’s agenda to make the Northeast more accessible. While construction of rail linkages in Laos is still underway, Mr. Arkhom noted that a section of the railway connecting adjacent provinces Nakhon Rachasima and Khon Kaen is near completion. Mr. Arkhom indicated that the rail connection was a top priority on the Ministry of Transportation’s agenda, and additional budgeting and logistics planning for remaining sections of the Thai-Laos railway are being fast-tracked for Cabinet approval.

The Thai-Laos railway will constitute a major component of the bilateral Strategic Partnership for Growth and Sustainable Development and is symptomatic of deepening ties between the two countries. Economic development is to fall under the aegis of the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS), and the Thai and Laos governments have expressed a hope of increasing trade volume to US$11 billion by 2021. In many respects, the proposed development initiatives and ASEAN’s bid to establish an East-West railway across the mainland resemble Chinese-led infrastructure projects in Laos and the development of the China-Laos economic corridor, which fall under China’s Belt and Road Initiative. However, Chinese infrastructure projects are aiming to promote north-south linkages, whereas ASEAN is looking to promote east-west linkages among its member nations. Given Laos’ high public debt and limited resources, the Government may need to decide whether it will prioritize Chinese infrastructure development—including a North-South China-Lao railway—at the expense of building linkages with its ASEAN neighbors. Determining such resource allocation may be a growing concern for smaller countries in ASEAN like Laos and Cambodia, which are heavily reliant on Chinese investment, yet who are also seeking closer ties with their larger regional peers, like Thailand and Vietnam.

 
ADVOCACY UPDATE
 
 
  • Thailand Draft Cybersecurity Bill: On December 21, the Council submitted comments on the latest draft of Thailand's Cybersecurity Bill. The Bill was revised following a public hearing period that ended in October (the Council submitted comments for this public hearing on October 12), and the latest draft was shared on December 14 (exclusively in Thai). According to the Bangkok Post, the bill was set to be tabled for Cabinet approval the week of December 24, though no further information on the bill's status has been released since then. Please contact Ella Duangkaew (eduangkaew@usasean.org) or Praab Pianskool (praab@usasean.org) with any questions or for a copy of the submission.
 
IN THIS UPDATE
 
 
Regional Affairs
Asean economic meeting to focus on 12 top issues
Ministry set for first SEOM meeting here
Challenges in store as Thailand assumes Asean chair
Asean worries about Thailand’s ability to lead grouping amid political challenges
Laos, Thailand further cooperation, deepen friendship

National Affairs
EC: Feb 24 now impossible
Poll 'guaranteed' before May 9
Civil Partnership Bill now open for public comment
Next govt tipped to be short-lived
Thai activists protest as election faces possible delay
Poll proposal for March 10 gains steam
Government admits election delay
King's coronation date set for May 4
Experts expect post-poll strife will erupt
Bid to impeach NACC gathers pace
Prayut, Sudarat most popular politicians in 2018: Poll
Senate hopefuls pick 200 candidates
EC to speed up poll breach probes
EC ready to welcome foreign observers
EEC establishes committee to improve quality of news reporting

Customs
Exporters see 2018 shipments falling short of goal
Easier payment options set up for taxes
Call for neighbours to unite around SEZs

Defense & Security
Under the army's close watch

Economics
Optimism despite obstacles
Cabinet budgets Bt450bn deficit
Cabinet approves B3.2-trillion budget for 2020
Exporters fret over baht appreciation
Poll uncertainty, trade war hurting exports, investment: Somkid
Channel for VAT refund added
Inflation reached 4-year high in 2018
Finance minister airs 2019 concerns
BoT signals gradual tightening
Economists laud political parties’ proposals to reduce income inequality
Exports down on trade wars
Bill to allow foreigners to serve as arbitrators moves forward
130 SME training projects due 2019 by NEA
Finance Min: state welfare card holders given 5% VAT refund
Office of SME Promotion launches global connectivity program for SMEs

Energy
New Mineral Fuels head outlines fields plan
Activists demand cheaper, public-focused power plan
Analysis: Thailand may seek more US crude amid lofty Malaysian premiums
Deal secured, GPSC, Glow look to future power plays
Thailand's PTTEP boosts gas production, reserves with contract wins
Thailand’s first certified climate bond issued
Thai group eyes ASEAN solar plants after first 'green bond'

Financial Services
BoT urges talks before passbook halt
BoT requiring risk management boards

Food & Agriculture
Govt rejects PPRP land policy plan
EU's lifting of yellow card from Thailand welcomed
Wood export rules revisited
Officials to keep an eye on food prices
Dept allows extra fishing days for commercial trawlers
Incentive to spur tree growth
Officials see declining 2019 rice shipments
Palm oil strategy requires reconsideration
Cannabis patent requests to be considered after New Year
Farmers giddy over new medical marijuana law
Forest communities to receive 5.9m rai
Fishing group wants convention axed
Govt plans to launch 'blue economy' fund
Thai seafood industry buoyed by lifting of EU 'yellow card'

Health & Life Sciences
Medical supplies, services, drugs now under price control
Healthcare stocks drag SET index, Philippine shares jump
Facemasks urged as haze persists
War set to be waged on plastic
Price controls may be placed on soaring medical costs
Thailand 1st in Asia to adopt plain packaging
Vegetables and fruits in student lunches heavily contaminated with toxic chemicals   
Government to 'streamline' health funds
Public Health Ministry pushes use of emerging technology by state hospitals
Thailand approves medical marijuana in New Year's 'gift'

ICT
E-business levy draft bill stuck in limbo
K-Research predicts growth in hard disk drive exports
NBTC targets digital literacy
Cyberbill to be tabled next week
New copyright protection centre debuts
E-driving licences set for next month
MDES: 18th TELMIN approves Thailand’s proposal related to cyber security
DIP: Over 10,000 SMEs targeted for online operations in 2019
DEPA offers tax deduction up to 200% for software purchases by SMEs

Infrastructure
Thai-Chinese high-speed rail opened up to foreign finance
Local train manufacturing plant on agenda
High-speed rail needs help to make an impact
Cabinet OKs land use for airport rail
BoI gears up to snare aerospace investors for U-tapao
Transport Minister updates on high-speed rail project
Ministry aims for double-track rail link from Nakhon Ratchasima to Laos

Travel & Tourism
Secondary provinces gain traction
Making tourism better for the future
 
ARTICLE CLIPS
 
 
Regional Affairs

Asean economic meeting to focus on 12 top issues Bangkok Post 8th Jan 2019
As chair of Asean this year, Thailand is set to host the first senior economic official meeting (Seom) during Jan 12-18 in Bangkok, highlighting 12 key economic issues as top priorities. Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general of Trade Negotiations Department, said the issues for the first Seom comprise how to reduce transaction costs by 10% in 2020, and preparing to become an Industry 4.0 economy led by automation and robotics. Talks will also centre on the development of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises to prepare for the digital economy and connectivity.

Ministry set for first SEOM meeting here The Nation 7th Jan 2019
Oramon Sapthaweetham, director-general of Department of Trade Negotiations, said that 12 economic issues will be proposed in the meeting, from the preparation to handle the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), promotion of micro, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), the expansion of Asean Single Window Customs System to include all 10 Asean countries, the promotion of food tourism in Asean to the promotion of sustainable fishery. Currently, the Asean Single Window Customs System is available for only Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. In the meeting, the Asean senior economic officials will review the Asean free trade agreement, the system for self-certification on the country of origin and Asean mutual recognition arrangements (MRA) for automotive products, she said.

Challenges in store as Thailand assumes Asean chair Bangkok Post 1st Jan 2019
As Thailand takes the 2019 Asean chairmanship on Tuesday, threats and challenges lie on the horizon. Experts are warning that Thailand and Asean must brace for spillover from the trade war between the United States and China and push harder for the promotion of free trade. Chulalongkorn University's Asean Studies Centre's director of academic affairs, Piti Srisangnam, predicted that this year could be critical for the region considering the various issues Thailand, as Asean chair, must deal with.

Asean worries about Thailand’s ability to lead grouping amid political challenges The Nation 1st Jan 2019
Can Thailand handle the upcoming general election and also chair Asean in the same year? This was a question posed by Asean colleagues last year to Thai officials during a meeting of the 10-member bloc, suggesting a lack of confidence in the Kingdom’s ability to carry out the important tasks. Diplomats told The Nation that they did not want to see political turmoil in Thailand jeopardise Asean meetings any more, as the regional grouping badly needed to push forward many relevant issues for the group to achieve centrality of regional security architecture and economic integration. 

Laos, Thailand further cooperation, deepen friendship The Nation 15th Dec 2018
The direction of deepening relations and enhancement of bilateral cooperation was agreed on at the Third Lao-Thai Joint Cabinet Retreat (JCR) held in Vientiane yesterday co-chaired by Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith and his Thai counterpart General Prayut Chan-o-cha. After a two-hour meeting, the two prime ministers witnessed the signing of seven documents; namely the record of the JCR, memorandums of understanding (MOUs) on cooperation in the justice and legal sector, in transport, education, natural resources and environment, immigration management, and a MOU on power trade between Electricite du Laos and Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand.

National Affairs

EC: Feb 24 now impossible Bangkok Post 10th Jan 2019
Voters who still cherished the hope of casting their ballots on Feb 24 saw the likelihood fade as the Thursday deadline for publication of the royal decree on the general election slipped away. Thursday, Jan 10, was the last day the decree could be published if the election is to be held on Feb 24. As of 6.15pm, there was no sign of it. Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam had said in mid-December the decree on the election was in the process of being submitted to the king.

Poll 'guaranteed' before May 9 Bangkok Post 9th Jan 2019
The government has insisted that the general election will take place within the 150-day deadline, or by May 9, while the Election Commission (EC) has reaffirmed its stance to set the poll date only after the royal decree takes effect. Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon on Tuesday rejected suggestions that further delays may occur, saying this is not possible because, under the constitution, the election must be held within 150 days of the organic law governing the election of MPs taking effect, which took place on Dec 11 last year.

Civil Partnership Bill now open for public comment The Nation 8th Jan 2019
The comments will be gathered for consideration before the council submits the bill to the National Legislative Assembly. If passed by the legislators, the law will make Thailand the first country in Asia to recognise same-sex unions.  Though the bill is supported by many, it has also been criticised by LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) groups for being “insufficient” as it does not recognise their rights to adopt a child, receive a spouse’s public and private welfare benefits, or receive a deduction from taxes for couples.

Next govt tipped to be short-lived Bangkok Post 7th Jan 2019
The next government could be a very short-lived one given the possibility of it emerging with a parliamentary minority, politicians are warning. Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said there are three potential post-election scenarios: a party winning more than half of the 500 MP seats at stake and governing solo; parties huddling together to form a government with a House majority; and parties left locked in disagreement while a few of them attempt to set up a minority coalition administration.

Thai activists protest as election faces possible delay The Straits Times 6th Jan 2019
Dozens of Thai activists on Sunday (Jan 6) protested against a possible delay of a national election set for next month, the first such gathering since the military government lifted a ban on political activity imposed after a 2014 coup. The junta has promised and postponed the election several times since it came to power, with the latest date set for Feb 24. However, the vote faces yet another postponement after Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam suggested on Friday that post-election events might clash with rituals related to King Maha Vajiralongkorn's coronation from May 4-6. That prompted the first protest since the junta lifted a ban on political activities and a gathering of more than five people in December.

Poll proposal for March 10 gains steam Bangkok Post 6th Jan 2019
Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, a former Election Commission (EC) member, has supported the EC's proposal for March 10 as the new election date if the poll is delayed from Feb 24. March 10 will be "a safe poll date'' to avoid any future legal complications that could lead to the poll being nullified, said Mr Somchai who is now a Democrat Party candidate for a House seat in Samut Sakhon. On Friday, an EC source told the Bangkok Post that the commission has proposed March 10 to Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam.

Government admits election delay Bangkok Post 4th Jan 2019
The election date will likely be delayed from Feb 24 to avoid having poll-related activities overlapping with those of the coronation ceremony, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said Thursday. In any case, the poll will be held no later than the May 9 deadline, he said ahead of a meeting with the Election Commission to discuss the election date. Mr Wissanu refused to say whether the government had ordered the EC to delay the Feb 24 poll date. Reporters pressed him on this issue and he declined to answer.

King's coronation date set for May 4 Bangkok Post 2nd Jan 2019
His Majesty the King's coronation will take place May 4-6, according to the Royal Household Bureau. The actual coronation ceremony will be performed on May 4. After the coronation, His Majesty the King will grant an audience to a grand gathering of royal family members, privy councillors, cabinet members and senior government officials. Later that day, the assumption of residence ceremony will be held. The ritual marks the King taking up residence at the Grand Palace. On May 5, a ceremony marking the inscription of the King's full ceremonial name on a golden tablet will take place, after which the monarch will bestow new royal titles upon members of the royal family.

Experts expect post-poll strife will erupt Bangkok Post 2nd Jan 2019
More signs of political unrest have emerged in the run-up to the Feb 24 general election, with pundits now anticipating further political disruptions after the poll. One key factor is the growing belief that the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) will attempt to keep its grip on power, they told Bangkok Post when asked to predict and assess the political situation after the election. This has been heavily commented on since the 2016 constitutional referendum, which won the overwhelming support of the public and justified the charter-drafting body's move to write a provisional clause requiring that 250 senators must be picked by the NCPO. This is seen as the body's first step to secure power after the election, they said.

Bid to impeach NACC gathers pace Bangkok Post 31st Dec 2018
The petition to impeach the National Anti Corruption Commission (NACC) is expected to be completed by the middle of next month, said activist Srisuwan Janya. Mr Srisuwan, who initiated the campaign at his coffee shop in Don Muang district and had gained 1,229 signatures as of 6pm Sunday, said he expected the required 20,000 names to be gathered by the middle of the month at which point he will send the petition to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA).

Prayut, Sudarat most popular politicians in 2018: Poll Bangkok Post 30th Dec 2018
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, chief of the Pheu Thai Party's election strategy committee, were named the most popular male and female politicians in 2018 in an opinion survey by Suan Dusit Rajabhat University, or Suan Dusit Poll. The poll was conducted between Dec 10-28 on 8,347 people across the country to compile their opinions on political, economic and social events and their favourite personalities in various fields in the year 2018. In the survey, the respondents were first asked to cite the people and events most interesting to them in various categories. They were then asked to choose between the top three names and events from the first set of questions.

Senate hopefuls pick 200 candidates Bangkok Post 28th Dec 2018
The Senate candidacy process has concluded with 200 candidates rounded off for final selection by the regime amid complaints of vote-swapping and vote-buying. Election Commission (EC) chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong said the Senate candidate selection process at the national level finished early and smoothly with 200 candidates selected from a pool of 2,746 who were elected via intra-voting in professional and social groups. In some groups, ties were resolved by drawing a lot to choose the winner, he said.

EC to speed up poll breach probes Bangkok Post 25th Dec 2018
The Election Commission (EC) is speeding up its probe into two cases of alleged violations of the law governing political parties by the pro-regime Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), saying results of the investigation are expected in up to two months. The cases involved a recent Chinese-style fund-raising banquet organised by the PPRP at Impact Muang Thong Thani in Nonthaburi on Dec 19 and a video clip narrated by a man accusing the PPRP of forcing an old woman to apply for the party's membership in Yasothon's Loeng Nok Tha district in exchange for a state welfare card for low-income earners.

EC ready to welcome foreign observers The Nation 19th Dec 2018
Election Commission (EC) president Ittiporn Boonpracong said yesterday that international observers were welcome to monitor the upcoming election, provided they follow procedures and respect the law.  Ittiporn’s statement came after Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai rebuffed the idea of allowing outside observers, triggering heated debate recently. The minister claimed that having foreigners monitor the election would make Thailand – which becomes the Asean chair next year – look as if it lacked the ability to hold an election on its own. 

EEC establishes committee to improve quality of news reporting National News Bureau of Thailand 13th Dec 2018
News agencies in the eastern region recently entered discussions to improve the quality of news reporting on the development of the EEC. Local news agencies from Chonburi, Rayong, and Chachoengsao met at Pattaya City Hall to create a media network to provide constructive and factual information, free of slanderous or damaging content often used by groups to attack competitors.

Customs

Exporters see 2018 shipments falling short of goal Bangkok Post 9th Jan 2019
Discouraged by the drop in exports in both October and November, an exporter group acknowledged Tuesday that the country's overall exports in 2018 were unlikely to achieve 8% growth as earlier forecast. Ghanyapad Tantipipatpong, chairwoman of the Thai National Shippers' Council (TNSC), said shipments were likely to end the year at 7-7.3% growth in 2018. She forecast a mere 5% gain this year. "Thai exports face a lot of risk factors, including the unabated trade war between the US and China, a strong baht, higher oil prices, a global economic slowdown, and the US government shutdown," Ms Ghanyapad said. "The government should speed up trade missions and promotion activities in potential export markets such as Africa and the Middle East, especially in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, where food is a potential export good." She suggested that the government accelerate tightening the trade relationship to expand export markets and investment with as many trading partners as possible and promote the use of free-trade agreements (FTAs) to boost exports.

Easier payment options set up for taxes Bangkok Post 22nd Dec 2018
The Customs Department is offering bill payment services through online banking, counter service and bank branches to create more convenience for taxpayers and comply with the national e-payment strategy. With the new bill payment service, taxpayers no longer need to visit the Customs Department to pay taxes, said director-general Krisada Chinavicharana. The tax-collecting department yesterday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the country's four largest banks -- Bangkok Bank (BBL), Siam Commercial Bank (SCB), Kasikornbank (KBank) and Krungthai Bank (KTB) -- to enable taxpayers to pay bills through the banks' online and branch channels. The deal is part of efforts to move the Customs Department towards fully electronic payments.

Call for neighbours to unite around SEZs Bangkok Post 15th Dec 2018
The Thai government is encouraging four neighbouring countries to seize opportunities from the Asean single market and collaborate with all 10 member nations to build up the regional economy in a sustainable manner. With the new opportunities, special economic zones (SEZs) represent a key project, connecting Thailand and nearby Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, all countries with strong growth potential. Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana said Asean countries have roughly 1,000 SEZs, representing 20% of 4,500 SEZs globally in 270 cities. He said the SEZ scheme will contribute 20% of the GDP in each country and increase worker income by an average of 8% a year. "The SEZ project will improve and develop to serve the economic expansion in Asean countries," Mr Uttama said at a seminar called "Asean SEZs: A New Era of World Investment" at the Asean SEZ Summit hosted by Bangkok Post Group.

Defense & Security

Under the army's close watch Bangkok Post 7th Jan 2019
The military will continue to play an important role in Thai politics this year, regardless of whether or not Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha returns as premier after the general election. In 2019, the military's peacekeeping force will be responsible for maintaining peace and order ahead of the general elections, until the poll results are announced. Established after the coup in 2014, the peacekeeping force initially consisted of troops from 240 military companies. In the middle of last year, the number of companies that make up the force was reduced to 160.

Economics

Optimism despite obstacles Bangkok Post 8th Jan 2019
Thailand's economy will face a number of disruptions this year, from the US-China trade war to domestic elections, while overall economic growth is expected to marginally decrease, according to a panel of government officials and a banker. Speaking Monday at a seminar titled "Next Thailand Economic Challenge", the group discussed the outlook this year for the economy. While the general view was positive, the spectre of global problems and a possible economic slowdown tempered optimism, driven by the country's likely technological progress.

Cabinet budgets Bt450bn deficit The Nation 8th Jan 2019
Deputy Finance Minister Wisudhi Srisuphan said that the total budget amount is 6.7 per cent higher than that of the previous fiscal year. The Thai economy is also forecast to expand in a range of 3.5-4.5 per cent with headline inflation at 0.8-1.8 per cent next year. Of the approved budget, 73.7 per cent, or about Bt2.35 trillion, will go towards fixed expenses, while 21.6 per cent, or Bt691 billion, will be for investment.  The investment amount is 6.5 per cent, or Bt42 billion, higher than the previous year.

Cabinet approves B3.2-trillion budget for 2020 Bangkok Post 8th Jan 2019
The cabinet approved on Tuesday a budget of 3.2 trillion baht for the 2020 fiscal year that will begin on Oct 1, slightly higher than the current year's 3-trillion-baht budget. In a statement, the cabinet said the budget for the next fiscal year would have a deficit of 450 billion baht or 2.4% of gross domestic product, compared with a gap of 2.6% for the current fiscal year, which ends on Sept 30. The planned budget calls for government investments of 691 billion baht, equal to 21.6% of all spending and 6.5% higher than in the current year, the statement said.

Exporters fret over baht appreciation The Nation 8th Jan 2019
Chaichan Charoensuk’s comment came as the baht touched Bt31 to the dollar, sparking fears it would hurt Thailand’s exports due to loss of price competitiveness. He said the baht should stay at around Bt33-Bt33.5 per dollar. If the baht continued to rise, the council would want to discuss the issue with the Bank of Thailand (BOT). He said a date for the meeting has not been set, as exporters were evaluating developments in the foreign exchange market. Meanwhile, BOT Governor Veerathai Santiprabhob warned that the exchange rate would be highly volatile this year, compared to its movement in the past few years. The central bank would closely monitor the exchange rate movement, which would impact asset prices. External factors such as a partial US government shutdown have recently caused the baht to rise against the US dollar, according to Veerathai. The central bank could not control external factors, he added. 

Poll uncertainty, trade war hurting exports, investment: Somkid The Nation 7th Jan 2019
Thailand's economic outlook for 2019 is “uncertain and gloomy” due to the upcoming general election and the US-China trade war, deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak warned yesterday.Somkid said investors were questioning the stability of the Thai economy ahead of the election. He called it a key cause for the uncertain and pessimistic economic outlook for 2019. “Investors are wondering which party will lead Thailand’s next government, who will be prime minister and whether current development schemes and policies will be continued,” he said.

Channel for VAT refund added Bangkok Post 4th Jan 2019
The Finance Ministry has extended a payment channel that is eligible for the government's value-added tax (VAT) refund scheme for shopping during Chinese New Year, adding QR code payment to debit cards as originally planned. Those entitled to the VAT refund from shopping during Feb 1-15 must be Thai nationals, said Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong. For shops participating in the VAT refund, he said they must be VAT registrants equipped with point-of-sale terminals that are linked with electronic data capture devices to enable spending information to be directed to the Revenue Department. Shops are required to sign up at the Comptroller-General's Department.

Inflation reached 4-year high in 2018 Bangkok Post 3rd Jan 2019
Thailand's annual headline inflation rose to a four-year high in 2018, boosted by energy and house rent, but the rate still moved in the target range set by the government. The Trade Policy and Strategy Office under the Commerce Ministry reported Wednesday that headline inflation, gauged by the increase in the consumer price index (CPI), was 1.07% for the whole year in 2018, up from 0.66% in 2017, 0.19% in 2016 and -0.9% in 2015. The higher inflation came despite the growth rate easing for the fourth straight month in December as a result of lower energy prices and some cheaper agricultural products due to excess supply.

Finance minister airs 2019 concerns Bangkok Post 3rd Jan 2019
Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong sees interest rate hikes, capital mobility and political stability after the general election as economic concerns for 2019. Cheap money is no longer available, he said, referring to the central bank's policy rate increase in December. Farm sector reform is still far-fetched and state subsidies are still needed, he said.

BoT signals gradual tightening Bangkok Post 2nd Jan 2019
The Monetary Policy Committee expects any future policy tightening would be gradual after the central bank's first rate hike since 2011 in December, minutes from its last policy meeting showed on Wednesday. The Bank of Thailand's policy committee voted 5-2 to raise the one-day repurchase rate by 25 basis points to 1.75%, to curb risks to financial stability. After the increase, the rate is still only 50 basis points above its all-time low.

Economists laud political parties’ proposals to reduce income inequality The Nation 23rd Dec 2018
Economists have welcomed policies proposed by rival political parties in the run-up to general election, but they are sceptical about the financing plans and their effective implementation.The Democrat Party last week announced six key economic policies to address the needs of low-income groups at around the same time as arch-rival Pheu Thai unveiled its broad policies. The previous week, the debutante Future Forward Party had put forward bold proposals to address the widening inequality in society.

Exports down on trade wars Bangkok Post 21st Dec 2018
The value of exports fell 0.95% year-on-year in November to US$21.24 billion on the China-United States trade war and lower supply-chain exports to China, resulting in a $1.17 billion trade deficit. Announcing the figures on Friday, the Commerce Ministry also reported that imports increased by 14.66% to $22.41 billion last month. In the first 11 months of 2018, exports expanded by 7.29% to $232.72 billion, imports rose by 14.77% to $231.34. The country posted a trade surplus of $1.38 billion in the January-November period.

Bill to allow foreigners to serve as arbitrators moves forward The Nation 15th Dec 2018
The NLA on Friday voted 139-0 with 2 abstentions to pass first reading of the bill amending the 2002 Arbitration Act. The NLA set up a vetting committee to review the bill within 30 days before submitting it to the NLA to consider in the second and third readings. Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who presented the draft bill, told legislators that the amendment would upgrade the arbitration process in Thailand by allowing foreign nationals to serve as independent arbitrators if necessary.

130 SME training projects due 2019 by NEA Bangkok Post 13th Dec 2018
The New Economy Academy (NEA), which is tasked with upgrading small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and teaching them e-commerce methods, aims to help at least 250,000 entrepreneurs through 130 training projects in 2019, in part to improve Thai competitiveness.

Finance Min: state welfare card holders given 5% VAT refund National News Bureau of Thailand 13th Dec 2018
The Finance Minister has revealed that state welfare cardholders will receive a 5% VAT refund after spending the recently delivered 500-baht subsidy.

Office of SME Promotion launches global connectivity program for SMEs National News Bureau of Thailand 13th Dec 2018
The Office of Small and Medium Enterprise Promotion (OSMEP) is launching a global connectivity program for SMEs designed to push local products onto the world market. Director of the OSMEP Suwanchai Lohawatanakul said, since 2016, his office has been working with governmental agencies to integrate SME networks, resulting in up to 17 billion baht in economic value. This year alone, OSMEP initiated 4 key programs that generated 4.19 billion baht in revenue and brought SMEs into important networks such as digital content and food trucks.

Energy

New Mineral Fuels head outlines fields plan Bangkok Post 7th Jan 2019
Premrutai Vinaiphat, 56, is the newly appointed director-general of the Mineral Fuels Department, in charge of the upstream petroleum regulator in Thailand. She was promoted in early October 2018 from inspector in the Energy Ministry. Mrs Premrutai assumed the position during the last screening period for the Erawan and Bongkot gas fields, the country's main gas resources in the Gulf of Thailand.

Activists demand cheaper, public-focused power plan Bangkok Post 1st Jan 2019
An advocacy group is planning to ask the Energy Ministry to revise its Power Development Plan draft, which it says has failed to raise people's awareness on energy saving and may ultimately burden consumers with high electricity charges. The call for a revision comes as Thailand gears up to launch its national Power Development Plan (PDP) for 2019-2037, which was put up for public hearings in Bangkok and four other regions last month. The final hearing on the PDP draft took place in Bangkok on Dec 24, after similar hearings were held in Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Surat Thani and Chon Buri. Suphakit Nuntavorkarn, a researcher at the Healthy Public Policy Foundation and a sustainable energy advocate, voiced his concerns over the erroneous load forecast assumptions contained in the draft.

Analysis: Thailand may seek more US crude amid lofty Malaysian premiums S&P Global Platts 8th Jan 2019
Lofty price differentials for light sweet Malaysian crude oil may continue to urge some of the major buyers in the region to seek cheaper alternative grades elsewhere, with Thailand slashing its imports from the Southeast Asian supplier while sharply raising US crude purchases. Dwindling spot market supply of light and medium sweet crudes from Indonesia and Vietnam provided ample support for the Malaysian crude complex in recent quarters, with spot differentials for Kimanis, Labuan, Kikeh grades hovering near multi-year highs. Thai refiners, one of the biggest buyers of light sweet Malaysian grades, have been actively seeking cheaper light sweet grades outside Asia in response to the high Malaysian premiums, raising its imports from West Africa and the US in recent months. Thailand typically looks at light sweet oil in West Africa, the Mediterranean and the US when Malaysian premiums rise sharply, and US crudes appear the most economical option for near-term trading cycles, a source at Thailand's state-owned PTT said.

Deal secured, GPSC, Glow look to future power plays Bangkok Post 28th Dec 2018
Two SET-listed companies, Glow Energy Plc and Global Power Synergy Plc (GPSC), are ready to proceed with their transaction after the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) gave the nod to a takeover of Glow. The ERC on Wednesday approved the takeover by GPSC, with the proviso that Glow must sell the Glow SSP 1 power plant in Map Ta Phut to a third party before the acquisition takes place. The new condition is aimed at preventing a monopoly after the takeover is completed. This was the third judgement after the ERC blocked the deal in its first two rulings in October and December.

Thailand's PTTEP boosts gas production, reserves with contract wins S&P Global Platts 14th Dec 2018
Thailand's energy ministry has awarded the renewed production sharing contracts for two major gas fields to PTT Exploration and Production Public Co Ltd, boosting the state-run oil company's gas production and reserves profile at a time when the country's output has been flagging. PTTEP's auction wins for the Erawan and Bongkot natural gas fields in the Gulf of Thailand underscore how national oil companies are securing greater control over petroleum reserves in Asia, and the shrinking presence of oil majors in the region. It also raises several questions about the tougher fiscal terms under which the new contracts are being awarded and whether the renewals of petroleum concessions in coming years will be done at similar terms with a higher share for the government. The Bongkot and Erawan gas fields are considered vital to Thailand's energy supply and their combined gas production accounts for 60% of total domestic output, PTTEP said. The auction result highlights the continued departure of oil majors from key petroleum acreage in Southeast Asia.

Thailand’s first certified climate bond issued The Asset ESG Forum 14th Dec 2018
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will invest 5 billion baht (US$155 million) in the maiden green bonds by B.Grimm Power Public Company of Thailand, representing the first certified climate bonds to be issued in Thailand. These details were announced on December 11. The transaction comprised of two tranches – five years and seven years – with the proceeds earmarked for nine operational solar power plants with a total capacity of 67.7 MW and seven solar plants under construction, all in Thailand and with a total capacity of 30.8 MW. B.Grimm Power president Preeyanart Soontornwata says the issuance will foster the development of the green bond market in Thailand by showcasing international best practice for genuine green and climate bonds. She highlighted ADB's support in ensuring the bonds comply with the International Capital Markets Association Green Bond Principles and Climate Bond Initiative standards.

Thai group eyes ASEAN solar plants after first 'green bond' Nikkei Asian Review 13th Dec 2018
The power generating arm of Thailand's oldest industrial group, B. Grimm, has issued 5 billion baht ($152 million) in "green bonds" to raise funds for further investment in its renewable energy business. "We invested a lot in Vietnam, and we are now looking for business opportunities in Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines," said Preeyanart Soontornwata, president of B. Grimm Power. The Asian Development Bank bought the entire offering, Preeyanart said. "We are in talks with ADB for possible loans in the future as well as issuing more green bonds, as it is seen as the most competitive fundraising strategy at this moment," she added. About 3 billion baht from the sale goes toward refinancing earlier debt, while the rest will be used to build 16 solar farms in Thailand with total generating capacity of 97 megawatts, she said. Green bonds raise money for climate and environmental projects. The bonds and their issuers need certification by the Climate Bonds Initiative, an international not-for-profit organization that works to mobilize the $100 trillion global bond market to fight climate change. About seven of the 16 solar farms in Thailand remain under construction, with some due to begin commercial operations next year.

Financial Services

BoT urges talks before passbook halt Bangkok Post 4th Jan 2019
The Bank of Thailand is demanding commercial banks discuss whether they intend to cancel physical passbooks in the future because it wants to ensure banks will offer proper services to customers. The central bank confirmed all commercial banks still offer physical deposit passbooks or documents to customers, but some banks plan to provide digital passbooks as an alternative for those who prefer the electronic channel.

BoT requiring risk management boards Bangkok Post 3rd Jan 2019
The Bank of Thailand is demanding that all commercial banks set up a risk management board by the middle of 2019 as part of efforts to strengthen risk management to protect financial stability. Amid growing uncertainties in both local and international markets, the risk management boards are expected to help banks rein in risks involved with markets, credit and the financial segment, said Ronadol Numnonda, deputy governor for financial institutions stability at the central bank. Several banks, even some large players, have not installed a risk management board yet, he said.

Food & Agriculture

Govt rejects PPRP land policy plan Bangkok Post 10th Jan 2019
Agriculture Minister Grisada Boonrach on Wednesday shrugged off a land policy proposal floated by canvassing politicians that would allow farmers holding Sor Por Kor land documents to seek commercial gains from their property. He said about 35 million rai was distributed to seven million poor farmers under the Sor Por Kor land reform scheme and land ownership cannot change hands except by being passed on to heirs. "So if any political party wants to do this [change the policy], I can tell them that there is a law governing the Sor Kor Land scheme and the law doesn't allow them to proceed," he said.

EU's lifting of yellow card from Thailand welcomed The Nation 9th Jan 2019
The fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has been ongoing in Thailand and Thai Union is proud to have worked with the Royal Thai Government to promote positive changes in the Thai fishing industry.  “The improvements to regulation and enforcement of the fishing industry have been significant, not only in terms of traceability and the sustainable development of the fisheries but also in terms of eliminating human rights violations,” Thirapong said. He congratulated Thai government for its efforts to bring change to the country in the fight against IUU. The yellow carding process created an opportunity for Thailand to lead the way in fisheries reform in the region and the Royal Thai Government should be commended for its work, said Darian McBain, Global Director of Sustainable Development at Thai Union.

Wood export rules revisited Bangkok Post 4th Jan 2019
The government is considering extending its grip on the exports of wood products and mai khud lom -- trees grown to a certain size and dug from the ground to be replanted in other places for landscaping -- to build confidence of trading partners and increase shipments. Adul Chotinisakorn, director-general of the Foreign Trade Department, said shipments of the two product types may need to secure export licences or certificates from the Royal Forest Department and the Foreign Trade Department. Export licences are required only for shipments of timber, processed woods and charcoal.

Officials to keep an eye on food prices Bangkok Post 4th Jan 2019
The Commerce Ministry pledges to shore up key farm products this year if their prices fall below targets set by the ministry. Officials also vow to monitor food prices and service charges at restaurants to ensure fairness to consumers. Whichai Phochanakij, director-general of the Internal Trade Department, said the department set target prices for seven agricultural products for factories: oil palm, dried coconut, eggs, shallots, onions, garlic and pineapples.

Dept allows extra fishing days for commercial trawlers Bangkok Post 31st Dec 2018
The Department of Fisheries has approved additional days for commercial fishing as fewer trawlers are going out to sea due to labour shortages that have plagued the sector. Gen Chatchai Sarikulya, deputy prime minister and chairman of the sub-committee on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, said that more and more commercial trawlers are refusing to go out to sea because of the limited number of workers available. The pool of potential workers has fallen as Thailand continues to improve its labour management system.

Incentive to spur tree growth Bangkok Post 28th Dec 2018
The Revenue Department wants to let individual and corporate taxpayers deduct expenses incurred from planting high-value trees from their income tax to comply with the government's push to raise the number of such trees to 1 billion in the next decade. The tax-collecting agency is drafting the law for the tax deduction, said Prasertsuk Chamornmarn, executive director of the​ Thailand Greenhouse Gas Management Organisation (TGO). The government is also amending laws governing high-value trees to enable growers to cut them down for sale, he said.

Officials see declining 2019 rice shipments Bangkok Post 28th Dec 2018
The government is confident that Thailand will end the year exporting 11 million tonnes of rice as targeted, but shipments are forecast to drop to 10 million tonnes next year amid stiff competition and a domestic drought. Boonyarit Kalayanamit, the commerce permanent secretary, said the National Rice Policy Committee chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha met on Thursday and endorsed the figures. As of Dec 11, Thai rice exports ranked second globally at 10.35 million tonnes, following India's 11.37 million. Vietnam was third with 6.06 million tonnes.

Palm oil strategy requires reconsideration Bangkok Post 28th Dec 2018
Thailand's palm oil export strategy needs to be reviewed to keep it current based on global conditions, says the Internal Trade Department's chief. The global oil palm outlook is gloomy after the EU's intended ban on palm oil, said Whichai Phochanakij, director-general of the Internal Trade Department. The European Parliament caused an outcry among palm producers in Asia when it called in January for a total ban on palm oil use in automotive fuel.

Cannabis patent requests to be considered after New Year Bangkok Post 27th Dec 2018
A formal discussion on requests to patent marijuana extract submitted to the Department of Intellectual Property (DIP) will be held after the New Year holiday, Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong said on Wednesday. The ministry is planning to invite various agencies to attend the discussion. He was asked earlier about the impact of granting the patents on the government's plan to develop marijuana for medical purposes. The concerns were raised after the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) passed a bill to legalise the controlled production, import and use of marijuana and kratom for medical and research purposes on Tuesday, which many feared will benefit large, foreign pharmaceutical companies.

Farmers giddy over new medical marijuana law Bangkok Post 26th Dec 2018
Thai farmers welcomed a new law allowing cultivation and use of marijuana for medical purposes Wednesday, in an Asian first that promises an economic bonanza but also fears that foreign companies could reap the rewards. Thailand's National Assembly passed a bill Tuesday legalising the use of marijuana and kratom -- a traditional herb -- for research and medical use. The move is a significant step for a region that levies harsh sentences for drug violations. It would also allow for the production, import and export of marijuana.

Forest communities to receive 5.9m rai Bangkok Post 23rd Dec 2018
In the last month of the year, the government handed out many new gifts to citizens, including to poor forest dwellers. The cabinet on Tuesday approved a move to give 5.9 million rai of protected forestland to dwellers. The offering is part of the government's "collective title deed" land management scheme. Under the scheme, communities will receive deeds that belong solely to them, and in which landownership is not transferable. Types of land that fall under the collective title deed scheme include protected forests such as national forest reserves, mangrove forests, and Sor Por Kor -- state land given to farmers and forest communities.

Fishing group wants convention axed Bangkok Post 21st Dec 2018
Fishery operators converged on the Labour Ministry Thursday to oppose a government plan to ratify the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) 2007 Work in Fishing Convention, also known as C188, which they said could hurt their businesses. They also called on the prime minister to invoke Section 44 to stop the ratification. According to them, there is a need to conduct an inclusive and thorough study on the impact of ratification.

Govt plans to launch 'blue economy' fund Bangkok Post 18th Dec 2018
The government plans to set up a fund to help improve the livelihoods of traditional fishermen and their fishing capacity, in line with the principles of a "blue economy". The blue economy principle espouses the sustainable use of oceanic resources for economic growth, to improve livelihoods, and create jobs while at the same time preserving the health of the ocean's ecosystem. Deputy Prime Minister Gen Chatchai Sarikulya believes the initiative will also help government efforts to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Thai seafood industry buoyed by lifting of EU 'yellow card' Nikkei Asian Review 10th Jan 2019
The European Union's decision Tuesday to remove Thailand from a list of countries warned over illegal fishing is being met with relief by big Thai seafood companies that had feared being locked out of the huge European market. The European Commission said in a statement Tuesday on the lifting of the "yellow card" that it "acknowledges that Thailand has successfully addressed the shortcomings in its fisheries legal and administrative systems." It also recognized Thailand's efforts to tackle human trafficking and forced labor in the industry. The announcement comes at an ideal time for the junta, with long-awaited elections due in a matter of weeks or months. But the benefits to the seafood industry only extend as far as "short-term sentiment," the Capital Nomura analyst said. Thailand has become a leading seafood producer, ranking among the top 20 countries by catch volume. It exported 189.5 billion baht ($5.93 billion) worth of fishery products in 2017, government data shows. The EU is the country's third-largest seafood export destination behind the U.S. and Japan, accounting for about 10% of the total. The rapid expansion of Southeast Asia's fishing industry has often come at the expense of workers' rights and the environment. With yellow cards, Vietnam and Cambodia remain on the same EU illegal-fishing watch list from which Thailand was just removed. Receiving a red card from the bloc leads to a total ban on importing seafood into the EU.

Health & Life Sciences

Medical supplies, services, drugs now under price control Bangkok Post 9th Jan 2019
The government on Wednesday added medicine, medical supplies and medical services to its price control lists to ensure fairness for both patients and operators of private hospitals, the commerce minister said. Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong said medicine and medical supplies were included in the product price control list of the government's central committee on prices of goods and services, and medical services placed on the panel's service fees control list. The committee formed a sub-committee to work out measures to control their prices. It comprises representatives from the ministries of commerce and public health, insurance associations, the Private Hospital Association, the Foundation for Consumers and the National Health Security Office, the commerce minister said.

Healthcare stocks drag SET index, Philippine shares jump Bangkok Post 9th Jan 2019
The Stock Exchange of Thailand index ended marginally lower on Wednesday, snapping three straight sessions of gains, dragged by healthcare stocks. Other Southeast Asian stock markets closed mixed, with Philippines rising nearly 3%, on rising optimism that talks between China and the United States could end a months-long trade war between the world's top two economies. Chinese and US teams ended trade talks in Beijing on Wednesday that lasted longer than expected, with China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang saying that the longer-than-expected negotiations suggested the countries were serious in talks.

Facemasks urged as haze persists Bangkok Post 8th Jan 2019
The Pollution Control Department (PCD) has urged people in worst-affected areas to wear masks as air pollution is set to get worse over the next two to three days. "The situation could drag on for a few days. People in high-risk areas should avoid outdoor activities or wear N95 masks for protection," said Thalerngsak Phetsuwan, deputy director-general of the department. He blamed the transition from cool to warm weather for causing the poor air circulation which has been exacerbated by high traffic volumes as people returned to the city after the New Year break. Poor air quality caused by hazardous PM2.5 particulates, which reduce visibility and cause the air to appear brown and hazy when levels are elevated, posed a danger on Monday to human health in 20 areas in and around Bangkok, according to information from PCD's air quality monitoring stations.

War set to be waged on plastic Bangkok Post 28th Dec 2018
Thailand is looking to ban the use of very thin single-use plastic bags in 2022, followed by single-use plastic glasses and straws three years later, according to plans drafted by the Pollution Control Department. It is also looking to reduce the use of thicker plastic bags, such as those given out by department stores, by 70% over the next 20 years and ban plastic bottle tops and toxic chemicals found in plastics used for food containers. The measures are part of efforts to curb the increasing use of throw-away plastic and hopefully reduce the dumping of plastic waste into the sea.

Price controls may be placed on soaring medical costs Bangkok Post 26th Dec 2018
The Commerce Ministry is considering putting medicine and medical treatment on the list of controlled goods and services amid concerns over the high cost of private medical care. Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong on Wednesday promised that he would address the issue of prices of medicine and medical care at private hospitals. The Foundation for Consumers is pushing for the ministry to regulate and control the cost to patients. 

Thailand 1st in Asia to adopt plain packaging Bangkok Post 20th Dec 2018
The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday commended Thailand's stronger tobacco control measures, as the kingdom emerges as the first country in Asia and the first low and middle-income country to adopt plain packaging for all tobacco products. "Thailand's bold steps against tobacco -- the single most important cause of preventable deaths worldwide -- are commendable and reflect the country's earnest efforts to promote the health and well-being of its people," said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director of WHO Southeast Asia, congratulating Thailand on its legislation.

Vegetables and fruits in student lunches heavily contaminated with toxic chemicals    Thai PBS World 13th Dec 2018
Vegetables and fruits found in lunches for students under the government-sponsored lunch programme are almost 100 percent contaminated with pesticides and 99 percent of the urine samples from students and teachers in four provinces were tested with organophosphate, a deadly toxic pesticide that attacks nervous system.

Government to 'streamline' health funds Bangkok Post 13th Dec 2018
The government is planning to revamp its medical welfare management system to ensure all citizens can benefit from existing healthcare funds, said the chairman of a sub-committee on public health reform. "Our goal is to ensure that every citizen has equal access to the privileges accorded by the government's three healthcare funds," said Phirom Kamonratakun on Wednesday at a seminar on Universal Health Coverage Day.

Public Health Ministry pushes use of emerging technology by state hospitals The Nation 1st Jan 2019
Drawing on technological advances could improve health services and operational systems including patient data storing/management, and follows the Thailand 4.0-inspired “Smart Hospital” policy, according to Public Health Minister Dr Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn.

Thailand approves medical marijuana in New Year's 'gift' CNBC 25th Dec 2018
Thailand approved marijuana for medical use and research on Tuesday, the first legalization of the drug in a region with some of the world's strictest drug laws. The junta-appointed parliament in Thailand, a country which until the 1930s had a tradition of using marijuana to relieve pain and fatigue, voted to amend the Narcotic Act of 1979 in an extra parliamentary session handling a rush of bills before the New Year's holidays.

ICT

E-business levy draft bill stuck in limbo Bangkok Post 9th Jan 2019
A draft bill on e-business tax, a levy on foreign-based online platform operators earning income in Thailand, is at risk of not being vetted by lawmakers before the government leaves office. The draft bill is being deliberated by the Council of State, said permanent secretary for finance Prasong Poontaneat. The bill should have been on the National Legislative Assembly's (NLA) agenda before Dec 25, 2018 to be vetted by lawmakers before the general election, he said.

K-Research predicts growth in hard disk drive exports Bangkok Post 9th Jan 2019
Kasikorn Research Center (K-Research) forecasts Thai shipments of hard disk drives (HDDs) to grow by 3.6-7.8% this year, making up 252-262 million pieces. The research house projects export value for the overall HDD segment to increase by 0.9-5% to US$12.6-13.1 billion (404-420 billion baht) in 2019. K-Research said computer HDDs will be a key driver of exports, representing 55% of total HDD exports. There are four categories of HDDs.

NBTC targets digital literacy Bangkok Post 7th Jan 2019
The telecom regulator plans to start a digital literacy programme for the public, spanning 18 months, to mitigate the impact of unemployment from digital disruption and prepare the workforce for 5G wireless broadband adoption in 2020. The move is in collaboration with telecom vendors Huawei Technologies and Ericsson, the three major mobile operators, and Chulalongkorn University. 5G technology infrastructure will bring benefits to vertical industries, but also create disruption to existing workforces and organisational management, said Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC).

Cyberbill to be tabled next week Bangkok Post 19th Dec 2018
The cybersecurity bill, which critics say could give ways for authorities to violate citizens' rights, is expected to be tabled before the cabinet meeting next week. Paiboon Amonpinyokeat, a member of the national cyber preparation committee, said the bill has been redressed to standardise the appeal process with the court. He did not elaborate on the details. The bill, he said, will usher in three main structures -- an administrative unit, a security surveillance panel, chaired by a deputy prime minister in charge of security affairs, as well as a committee dealing with economic measures. "It is likely to be forwarded to the cabinet next week," said Mr Paiboon.

New copyright protection centre debuts Bangkok Post 19th Dec 2018
A new government centre was launched yesterday to protect parties affected by widespread infringement of intellectual property online, with the goal of stopping offenders' activities over the course of one to three days while waiting for the results of a formal investigation. The centre is being established so that police and other concerned state agencies can take immediate action to stop illegal online activities that are reported to the centre.

E-driving licences set for next month Bangkok Post 17th Dec 2018
The Department of Land Transport (DLT) plans to introduce digital driving licences next month for the convenience of both motorists and law enforcement. Peraphon Thawornsupacharoen, director-general of the DLT, said the licences will be registered within a new application which will be made available on both Android and iOS devices. The virtual licences will be legally acceptable to show to traffic police, who will verify the information by scanning a QR code.

MDES: 18th TELMIN approves Thailand’s proposal related to cyber security National News Bureau of Thailand 14th Dec 2018
The Ministry of a Digital Economy and Society (MDES) has disclosed that the 18th ASEAN Telecommunication and Information Technology Ministers Meeting (TELMIN) recently approved Thailand’s proposal related to cyber security. Digital Economy and Society Minister Pichet Durongkhaweroj, and MDES Permanent Secretary Atcharin Phatthanaphanchai attended the 18th TELMIN on December 5-6, 2018, in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

DIP: Over 10,000 SMEs targeted for online operations in 2019 National News Bureau of Thailand 14th Dec 2018
The Department of Industrial Promotion (DIP) wants over 10,000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and startups to operate their businesses online in 2019. DIP Director General, Korpchai Sangsitthisawas, said the government has a policy to promote SMEs expansion overseas via e-commerce. The DIP's mission is to prepare a training program for human resources and provide the business know-how to support local SMEs and startups.

DEPA offers tax deduction up to 200% for software purchases by SMEs National News Bureau of Thailand 13th Dec 2018
The Digital Economy Promotion Agency (DEPA) has devised a measure to promote software usage, offering tax deductions of up to 200 percent of the value of a computer program suited to business operations. DEPA Director Nuttaphol Nimmanpacharin said today that the agency is looking to benefit SMEs through the use of computer programs and technological tools in line with the Thailand 4.0 policy. Businesses that adopt inventory software, accounting software or retail software can use receipts from their purchases to receive a tax break up of to 200 percent of the value of the acquisition.

Infrastructure

Thai-Chinese high-speed rail opened up to foreign finance Bangkok Post 9th Jan 2019
The government has allowed the Thai-Chinese high-speed railway planned from Bangkok to Nong Khai to secure funding from overseas financial institutions, instead of from only domestic ones as earlier stipulated. Nathporn Chatusripitak, an adviser to the Prime Minister's Office Minister, said the cabinet yesterday approved a proposal from the Finance Ministry to allow the ministry to borrow 166.34 billion baht from overseas financial institutions for the development of the Thai-Sino high-speed railway from Bangkok to Nong Khai. In July 2017, the cabinet approved the Finance Ministry borrowing the same amount only from domestic financial institutions for the State Railway of Thailand to finance the Thai-Sino high-rail development from Bangkok to Nong Khai.

Local train manufacturing plant on agenda The Nation 8th Jan 2019
He said setting up a train assembly plant would generate more than 500 jobs for local people. It also will reduce imports worth up to Bt70 billion a year, to only Bt7 billion a year. Production from the plant could also be exported to other countries in Asean such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam, who are also expand investments in their infrastructure, including rail systems. “There are foreign investors from Japan, South Korea and Germany interested in expanding their investments in train and rail assembly plants in Thailand including investors. We believe that in the next two to three years from now, we will have train and rail assembly plants in Thailand,” he said.

High-speed rail needs help to make an impact Bangkok Post 7th Jan 2019
For all the hype surrounding Thailand's planned high-speed railway lines, their economic impact will be minimal without better planning to improve urban amenities and productivity in the services sector, say Japanese researchers. Based on current plans, the rail projects would improve the kingdom's gross domestic product (GDP) by only 0.1% by 2035, according to a research paper by the Institute of Developing Economies at the Japan External Trade Organization (IDE-Jetro).

Cabinet OKs land use for airport rail Bangkok Post 3rd Jan 2019
The cabinet on Wednesday approved a royal decree to expropriate 850 rai of land in 20 tambons (subdistricts) in three provinces and one district in Bangkok for construction of the 220-km high-speed railway linking Don Mueang, Suvarnabhumi and U-tapao airports. According to government spokesman Buddhipongse Punnakanta, studies by consultants hired by the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) have proposed that the government needs to expropriate land for the high-speed rail development in Lat Krabang district of Bangkok and 20 tambons in Chachoengsao, Chon Buri and Rayong, including a combined 850 rai and 245 buildings.

BoI gears up to snare aerospace investors for U-tapao Bangkok Post 3rd Jan 2019
The Board of Investment (BoI) has laid out a plan to attract aerospace investment at U-tapao airport in 2019 as part of the government's Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) development. The first phase develops 6,500 rai for the airport and an aviation hub, which includes a new terminal to accommodate 15 million passengers in the next five years, a second runway, a business zone, a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility, and air cargo space. The Royal Thai Navy plans to announce a winning bidder for the first phase in March, with the document submission deadline on Feb 28.

Transport Minister updates on high-speed rail project National News Bureau of Thailand 13th Dec 2018
Thailand's Minister of Transport has inspected Nong Khai railway station as part of mobile cabinet meeting in upper northeastern provinces. Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith says the mobile cabinet will focus on the projects in the upper northeastern provinces of Loei, Nong Bua Lam Phu, Udon Thani, Nong Khai and Bung Kan . The Ministry of Transport will report the progress on several projects to the cabinet, mostly on the highway and rural road projects including a discussion between government and private sector to develop the road network in this cluster.

Ministry aims for double-track rail link from Nakhon Ratchasima to Laos Bangkok Post 23rd Dec 2018
The Transport Ministry plans to develop a double-track railway project linking Nakhon Ratchasima and Laos' Pakse, minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith says. Mr Arkhom said the ministry is speeding up the process of sending the project to cabinet for consideration. The project was brought up following the recent joint cabinet retreat between the Thai and Lao governments, which agreed that a feasibility study of a new rail route from Thailand to Laos should be carried out. The planned rail route passes through Ubon Ratchathani.

Travel & Tourism

Secondary provinces gain traction Bangkok Post 8th Jan 2019
Cities such as Sakon Nakhon, Nakhon Phanom and Nan saw over 50% growth in tourism popularity in 2018, according to a report by Expedia.com. The global travel booking site found large booms in search popularity among 10 Thai "secondary" cities through their internal flight data. Buri Ram, Loei, Roi Et, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phitsanulok, Narathiwat and Ubon Ratchathani also saw over 50% increases in air traffic demand in 2018 compared with 2017. The report found Thai travellers prefer to travel close to home, and choose local destinations and short-distance domestic travel. Travel to secondary cities is on the rise, while Thais also prefer non-traditional accommodation such as apartment hotels, tents and bungalows.

Making tourism better for the future Bangkok Post 3rd Jan 2019
The timetable for the general election in February is set, and if voting takes place, the existing government will have a short period of time to complete its agenda. This includes Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat, who needs to speed up plans to meet his ambitious goal to transform the tourism industry's quality standards and raise responsibility. Mr Weerasak, who came into office in November 2017, has long encouraged tourism operators to change, placing a higher focus on quality tourism and safe destinations, rather than focusing on huge arrival numbers.