Thailand Update: January 24, 2019

Thailand Update | January 24, 2019
Authors: Riley Smith, Ella Duangkaew, Lucius Lee, 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 March. Click here to register for the call. 
 
THE COUNCIL'S TAKE
 
 

Thailand Confirms General Election Date for March 24

On January 23, Thailand’s Election Commission (EC) announced that the long-awaited general election will be held on March 24. The announcement came in response to a royal decree issued by His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn and signed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha that same day. The election announcement comes after seven delays and much anticipation from the general public, as it has been nearly five years since the current military-led government came into power on May 22, 2014. The most recent delay was attributed to a potential scheduling conflict with the coronation ceremony of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, which will take place May 4-6 but will be bookended by activities from April 19-May 19. For more background on the most recent delay, see our Analytical Update here.

The March 24 polls will constitute the first general election in eight years. Thais will be voting for the 500-seat House of Representatives, while the 250 Senate members will be selected by the current Government, per the 2017 Constitution.  This system will require any party that wins the majority of the House to align itself with the selected members of the Senate, likely resulting in a coalition government if this party is not presently supportive of the current Government. According to the Prime Minister’s Office, it is expected that the new government will “be in place by the middle of this year.” However, there still remains uncertainty about when the results of the election will be announced and how the delay in the election date could lead to further delays in the ASEAN Calendar. For example, the Thai Government has already pushed back the ASEAN Leaders’ Summit to late June to accommodate the Government transition; it may need to be delayed further, as a new Government will most likely only be in place as soon as June. For more information, see our Analytical Update here.

Thai Cabinet Approves New Price Control Measures on Medicines, Medical Supplies, and Medical Services

On January 22, 2019, the Cabinet of Thailand approved a measure to introduce price controls on medicines, medical supplies and medical services. Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong commented that the addition of these items to the price controls list would not necessarily lead to their prices being capped. A sub-committee, comprising the Ministry of Commerce (MOC), the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) and the National Health Security Office, as well as insurers, private hospitals, and consumer groups will be formed to discuss an implementation plan.

MOC had proposed new price controls to the Cabinet in response to public outcry surrounding exorbitant prices of medical goods and services. According to Supatra Nacapew, chief of the Independent Consumer Protection Committee’s sub-panel on food, drugs, and other health products, while medicine already falls under the Internal Trade Department’s list of price-controlled goods, private hospitals continue to charge 70 to 400 times the controlled price. She added that some private hospitals also add a 33% profit margin to the sale of medications—well above the 10-12% needed to cover hospital overheads.

Private hospitals have in turn argued that price controls will interfere with plans to transform Thailand into a medical hub and limit consumers’ alternatives. Those in favor of price controls counter such claims by highlighting countries like Singapore, where price controls on medical supplies have not detracted from its status as a medical hub. Those opposed to price controls assert that health insurance policyholders in particular will be affected by the price controls. Currently, private hospital medical bills subsume certain medical services under the price of medication. The introduction of price controls would require a detailed cataloguing of all medical services, and, as policyholders can only claim reimbursement on medications, they may witness a hike in their medical bills.

Restrictive price control legislation, particularly policies that introduce set pricing levels and caps such as the Maximum Procurement Pricing (MPP) system that was introduced in Thailand last year, may disincentivize the innovation and development of high-quality products, and cause manufacturing and research and development facilities to relocate elsewhere. Despite these potential consequences, MOPH has stood its ground on the MPP despite multiple advocacy efforts from the private sector, with support from the MOC, to make the regime more flexible and business-friendly. It is encouraging that the more business-friendly MOC introduced the new price control measures, but the MOPH will ultimately need to be on board with the final policies guiding the price controls and may call for stricter measures similar to the MPP. 

Thailand’s New Insurance Sales Regulations Establish Recognition and Requirements for New Types of Insurance Sales

As of January 1, 2019, new regulations on the sale of life and non-life insurance products have come into effect in Thailand. Issued by Thailand’s Office of Insurance Commission (OIC), the fully titled “Notifications on the Rules and Procedures for the Issuing and Offering for Sale of Insurance Products by Life and Non-Life Insurance Companies and the Operations of Insurance Agents and Licensed Brokers” (“Notifications”) update and replace OIC’s previous notifications on the sale of insurance, which were issued in 2008. According to a report by Baker McKenzie, the updates preserve much of the content of draft notifications previously released in June 2018 and reflect OIC’s efforts to align with new sales practices in the insurance sector, most notably increased digitization.

OIC’s Notifications will stress ethical business practices and the promotion of a healthy corporate culture to ensure good corporate governance, risk management, and the fair treatment and protection of customers. The Baker McKenzie report notes that the Notifications will include stipulations on the issuance and sale of policies and will establish requirements for those authorized to conduct sales. For example, employees selling policies outside of the broker’s office will be expected to report the sale and provide relevant information to the insurer to allow for proper oversight.

Notably, the Notifications recognize bancassurance sales, direct mail sales, and telesales—concepts that were not covered in the 2008 version—and authorize banks to conduct telesales for the first time. Sales via electronic platforms are also recognized for the first time, and the Notifications stipulate that these sales will be regulated by a separate OIC notification specifically concerning electronic sales.

Insurance companies are expected to adhere closely to the new rules and regulations governing business operations as outlined in the Notifications or risk being penalized for non-compliance. The Notifications allow for OIC to force companies to remedy any violations. If necessary, OIC can order offenders to cease operations in the event of an unresolved breach. In addition, agents, brokers, and banks may also be penalized and could have their licenses revoked if they fail to comply. In extreme cases, OIC has the legal authority to apply sanctions to violators under the Life Insurance Act of 1992 and Non-Life Insurance Act of 1992.

The Notifications reflect OIC’s efforts to align with new sales practices in the insurance sector, which are characterized by increased digitization and expansion of new methods. Such business practice changes are occurring across all sectors in Thailand, particularly the increased use of remote personnel and electronic platforms. Thailand is highly dedicated to driving both national and regional digital advancement through increased technological adoption, as evidenced in their 2019 ASEAN Chairmanship theme to utilize fourth industrial revolution technologies to advance ASEAN towards a “Digital ASEAN.” The Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES) has primarily driven the development of regulation for digital advancement, but it is encouraging to see agencies in other sectors developing regulations that recognize, support and give regulatory guidance to digital advancement in their sector. Similar to MDES’s regulations (like the nearly-finalized Personal Data Protection Bill and Cybersecurity Bill), OIC’s notifications contain strict provisions for good governance and strong penalties for non-compliance, which reflect a whole-of-Government standard for tightly controlling digitized business activities. It will be important for the Government to ensure that such control serves only to prevent criminal activity and does not stifle further innovation or expansion of business practices.

 
IN THIS UPDATE
 
 

Regional Affairs
Asean backs Rohingya return

National Affairs
PM and his four ministers urged to clarify their political stances now Royal Decree issued
Prayut open to joining a ‘selfless, hardworking’ political party
Royal decree for election published, EC must set date
PM's Office: New government should be in place mid-year
Thailand to hold first election since 2014 coup d'etat

Customs
Thailand appeals WTO ruling over cigarette imports

Defense & Security
Army to buy 14 Chinese battle tanks

Economics
Thai industries sentiment index dropped in December
FPO: 2018 GDP to fall short
December drop drags 2018 exports
LED on cloud nine as asset sales soar
World Bank trims Thailand 2019 GDP growth to 3.8%
Lending curbs set to hit residential sales
Baht appreciation tipped as capital flows return

Energy
Thai junta struggles to balance drive to EVs with needs of farmers

Financial Services
Thai stocks lead SE Asian peers on election announcement
TBMA calm on property debt
Hopeful US-China news lifts world shares and SET
New Regulations for Sale of Life and Non-Life Insurance Products

Food & Agriculture
Govt to create data centre to help farm supply match demand
Govt distances itself from PPRP land plan
Regulations being drafted for growing medical marijuana
Govt rejects PPRP land policy plan
U.S. exports of DDG to Thailand halted
Beetles halt U.S. distillers' grains exports to Thailand
Thai seafood industry buoyed by lifting of EU 'yellow card'

Health & Life Sciences
Controlling medical prices pose a tough test
Thailand's ban on e-cigarettes under study after enforcement problems emerge
Group hopes Cabinet decision on medical price controls
Pollution dept, City Hall mull 'haze emergency'
Chikungunya virus infects 121 in Surin
Ministry targets factories
Smog serious threat to public health: experts
Cabinet approves price control at hospitals
The healthy fight over medical prices
Commerce Ministry stands by price control list

ICT
NBTC board approves Oct 31 for 2G shutdown
Asian firms eye 700MHz auction
NBTC aproves termination of 2G service on Oct 31
Digital bills pass second reading in Assembly
ETDA plans digital workforce
Caught in a clash of the titans
Alibaba, WHA make plans for e-commerce project

Infrastructure
Cabinet approves 116 projects for South in 4 years
PM okays B17.5m for housing project
B18bn projects approved for upper North
Rail work puts squeeze on city
BoI to focus on rail and cruise ship port investment

Travel & Tourism
Tourism fair at Lumpini Park aims to lure 600,000 visitors
Pattaya maps out water safety plan
TAT shows foreign visitors by the numbers
Private, public sectors keen on new app to promote tourism

 
ARTICLE CLIPS
 
 
Regional Affairs

Asean backs Rohingya return Bangkok Post 19th Jan 2019
Foreign ministers from the 10 Southeast Asian Nations yesterday pledged to continue providing humanitarian assistance to Myanmar over the Rohingya crisis and called for the repatriation process to take place as soon as possible. "We received a briefing from Myanmar on the humanitarian situation in Rakhine State and had a fruitful discussion on the issue where we agreed on the importance of Asean's role," said the statement from the two-day Asean Foreign Ministers' Retreat in Chiang Mai that ended yesterday. The event was the first ministerial-level event held under Thailand's Asean chairmanship to discuss the region's priorities and direction this year. Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said Asean was committed to helping Myanmar solve the humanitarian crisis and has commissioned the Asean Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) to play a role in providing assistance to Myanmar and its displaced people.

National Affairs

PM and his four ministers urged to clarify their political stances now Royal Decree issued The Nation 23rd Jan 2019
Preechapol Pongpanich also called for four ministers, who also hold executive positions in a political party, to get into the spirit of things and announce their political decision.  “It is time for the prime minister and his four ministers to inform the public about their political ambitions. The PM should clarify whether he is going to compete in the elections,” Preechapol said.  Now that the decree has been issued, the Election Commission (EC) has to hold an election within 60 days. 

Prayut open to joining a ‘selfless, hardworking’ political party The Nation 23rd Jan 2019
Prayut said he was waiting to see if any parties would invite him to be their candidate for premier. He said he would consider their proposals. “If I need to continue my work, I’ll need to be with some party,” the junta leader said. “However, that party has to be hardworking and dedicated and not trying to undo everything built and achieved [in the past four years].” Asked if the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat Party is the best option for him, Prayut said he had not been contacted by the party.

Royal decree for election published, EC must set date Bangkok Post 23rd Jan 2019
His Majesty the King on Wednesday issued a royal decree for a general election, which took immediate effect, and the Election Commission can now set a date for the polls. The decree, countersigned by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and published in the Royal Gazette on Wednesday, requires that the chairman of the Election Commission implement it. The EC is authorised by law to set the polling date and required to set the date within five days of the royal decree being published in the Royal Gazette.

PM's Office: New government should be in place mid-year Bangkok Post 23rd Jan 2019
The House of Representatives and a new government should both be in place by mid-year now a royal decree for a general election has been published in the Royal Gazette, the Prime Minister’s Office announced on Wednesday. The government believed the date for a general election to be decided by the Election Commission would allow adequate time for campaigning by political parties and their candidates and not disadvantage anyone, the announcement said. His Majesty the King on Wednesday issued a royal decree for a general election, which took immediate effect, and the Election Commission is compelled to set  a date within five days. The PM's Office announcement said the general election process would not exceed the 150-day time frame set by the organic law governing the election of MPs, which is already in effect.

Thailand to hold first election since 2014 coup d'etat Al Jazeera 23rd Jan 2019
After more than four years of military rule, Thailand will finally hold elections on March 24. The poll will be the first since generals overthrew a democratically elected government in 2014 after months of violent street protests. The election commission announced the decision on Wednesday after having postponed the vote's date several times.

Customs

Thailand appeals WTO ruling over cigarette imports Business World 13th Jan 2019
THE World Trade Organization (WTO) said on Friday Thailand is appealing the decision by a dispute panel that determined the country failed to comply with the WTO ruling against its regulations on cigarette imports. In a statement on Friday, the WTO said Thailand’s appeal filed on Wednesday pertained to the case brought by the Philippines before the Geneva-based organization, specifically “Thailand — Customs and Fiscal Measures on Cigarettes from the Philippines (Article 21.5 — Philippines).”

Defense & Security

Army to buy 14 Chinese battle tanks Bangkok Post 22nd Jan 2019
The Royal Thai Army plans to purchase 14 more heavy tanks from China, underscoring the closer defence ties between Bangkok and Beijing. An army source said yesterday the army would buy another 14 VT4 tanks, plus ammunition, for 2.3 billion baht to supplement the 39 tanks purchased in 2016 and 2017. The VT4 is a third-generation main battle tank built in China for export. Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong has assigned the task to his assistant, Gen Wijak Siribansop, chairman of the procurement panel, the source said.

Economics

Thai industries sentiment index dropped in December Bangkok Post 23rd Jan 2019
The Thai Industries Sentiment Index (TISI) dropped in December to 93.2 points on interest rate rise concerns and China's economic sentiment, the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) reported on Wednesday. The index fell from 93.9 points in November.  FTI chairman Supant Mongkolsuthree said business operators were concerned a rise in the policy interest rate would increase their financial costs, particularly SMEs.  They were also concerned about exports suffering from a downturn in the Chinese economy. 

FPO: 2018 GDP to fall short Bangkok Post 23rd Jan 2019
Economic growth for Thailand was likely 4.1-4.2% last year, short of the Finance Ministry's target of 4.5% because of lower than expected exports, says the head of the Fiscal Policy Office (FPO). To achieve the ministry's target, exports had to expand 8%, but last year's outbound merchandise shipments grew 6.7% after unexpectedly shrinking 1.7% year-on-year in December, said FPO director-general Lavaron Sangsnit. The December decline was the third in 2018 after exports in September shrank 5.2% year-on-year and November at 0.95%. The contraction in December, a fall for a second straight month, suggested that the US-Sino trade dispute, which dragged China's 2018 growth to the lowest in nearly three decades, is taking a toll on economies in the mainland's supply chain.

December drop drags 2018 exports Bangkok Post 22nd Jan 2019
Exports fell for a second straight month in December, dropping the full-year performance for 2018 to 6.7% growth and missing the 8% target set by the government. The Commerce Ministry reported Monday that customs-cleared exports unexpectedly shrank by 1.7% year-on-year last month with a value of US$19.4 billion after contracting 0.95% in November. The December decline was the third in 2018 after exports in September shrank 5.2% year-on-year. "This [drop] coincides with the recent global trade slowdown, ongoing trade disputes and disruptive emerging technological innovations in electronic products," said Pimchanok Vonkorpon, director-general of the Trade Policy and Strategy Office under the Commerce Ministry.

LED on cloud nine as asset sales soar Bangkok Post 17th Jan 2019
The Legal Execution Department (LED) auctioned off 44% more assets in the first quarter of fiscal 2019 than it did over the same period the previous year, marking an increase of 130 billion baht. Thailand's fiscal year starts in October. Apartments were the most lucrative assets sold, Ruenvadee Suwanmongkol, director-general of the LED, said on Wednesday. Only 8% of the apartments seized have not been sold, she added. The increased revenue from the sales was sparked partly by the higher frequency of the auctions, with additional auctions being held on Saturdays both in Bangkok and the provinces, Ms Ruenvadee said. There are now just 243 million baht worth of assets to be auctioned, she said.

World Bank trims Thailand 2019 GDP growth to 3.8% Bangkok Post 16th Jan 2019
The World Bank has trimmed its projection for Thailand's economic growth this year to 3.8% from 3.9% estimated earlier, due to a global slowdown and elevated trade tensions between the United States and China. The revision was made in its twice-yearly Thailand Economic Monitor, published on Wednesday. "Weaker global growth will likely impact the export performance of Thailand and restrain manufacturing activities in export-oriented industries," Kiatipong Ariyapruchya, World Bank senior economist for Thailand, said in a statement. Continued implementation of public infrastructure projects and economic reforms can help catalyse domestic demand in 2019 and support medium-term growth, he said.

Lending curbs set to hit residential sales Bangkok Post 14th Jan 2019
The Bank of Thailand's macroprudential policy will hurt future residential sales in 20 first- and second-tier provinces, with Chon Buri continuing to see the largest number of unsold units, which last year represented more than one-third of the total. Vichai Viratkapan, acting director-general of the Real Estate Information Center (REIC), said the new lending curbs will have a significant impact on home purchasing power in the second half of the year after they take effect on April 1. "Many developers may slow new supply launches over concerns about the market impact of the new lending rules," Mr Vichai said. "The monthly absorption rate will drop in the second half from the first half in all provinces and all housing categories."

Baht appreciation tipped as capital flows return Bangkok Post 11th Jan 2019
The baht's value is projected to appreciate in the medium to long term because of slower interest-rate normalisation in the US and adverse effects from the US-China trade dispute, says the Federation of Thai Capital Market Organisations (Fetco). Capital flows are expected to return to emerging markets in the next few months as the US economy suffers the double whammy of a slower pace of rate hikes and weaker growth momentum caused by the trade spat, said Fetco chairman Paiboon Nalinthrangkurn. The anticipated developments will cause the dollar to depreciate, Mr Paiboon said. Foreign fund flows are expected to move into the domestic bond market, he said, as there were net inflows worth about 190 billion baht registered last year in Thai bonds. Investment projects in the Eastern Economic Corridor and the upcoming general election are positive factors boosting investor confidence, Mr Paiboon said.

Energy

Thai junta struggles to balance drive to EVs with needs of farmers Nikkei Asian Review 11th Jan 2019
The Thai government is facing an energy dilemma ahead of general elections in February. On one hand, it is throwing its weight behind building an electric vehicle industry, but moving away from biofuels could lose millions of votes from farmers. The military government has been pushing hard to attract new investment in electric vehicles in a drive to make Thailand a regional high-tech auto hub. The Board of Investment has already approved many EV projects, particularly in its newly developed special economic zone, the Eastern Economic Corridor. It has given investment incentives to foreign car assemblers since March 2017 to draw them to the area. With strong support and investment by several car producers, the government wants to have 1.2 million EVs on the road by 2030, in line with Thailand's 20-year national strategy. But as the country moves to embrace cleaner energy, there are worries that it will decrease demand for fossil fuels and biofuels. In particular, Thailand has been developing its biofuel industry for more than three decades.

Financial Services

Thai stocks lead SE Asian peers on election announcement Bangkok Post 23rd Jan 2019
The Stock Exchange of Thailand index climbed almost 1% after a royal decree for a general election was issued on Wednesday. The SET index added 15.61 points or 0.97% to end the day at 1,617.38, in trade of 67.87 billion baht. Stock heavyweights PTT Plc, Kasikornbank Plc, Airports of Thailand Plc and Siam Commercial Bank Plc were among the most active stocks. The index jumped soon after His Majesty the King issued the royal decree for the election, which took immediate effect, followed by the poll date of March 24 set by the Election Commission hours later. The Thai shares were also buoyed by financials and telecoms.

TBMA calm on property debt Bangkok Post 22nd Jan 2019
The Bank of Thailand's macroprudential policy to curb property speculation is unlikely to affect real estate companies raising funds from debenture issuance because this year's debenture rollover portion is small, says the Thai Bond Market Association (TBMA). The TBMA said corporate bonds continue to be a popular fundraising debt instrument among private companies, including the property sector, amid low interest rates. The value of debentures issued by real estate companies stood at 357.31 billion baht last year, seen as the second-largest debenture issuers at 12% of total outstanding long-term debentures worth 3.45 trillion baht, according to the TBMA.

Hopeful US-China news lifts world shares and SET Bangkok Post 12th Jan 2019
Global stocks rebounded amid optimism about the outcome of China-US trade negotiations and Fed chairman Jerome Powell's dovish comments on US interest rates. Still, the extended US government shutdown continues to weigh on business confidence and could take a toll on consumer confidence. The SET index moved in a range of 1,579.20 and 1,609.39 points before closing at 1,597.04, up 1.4% from the previous week, in moderate turnover averaging 45.19 billion baht a day. Institutional investors were net buyers of 4.59 billion baht. Retail investors were net sellers of 2.84 billion baht, foreign investors sold 1.46 billion and brokerage firms offloaded 289.83 million worth of shares.

New Regulations for Sale of Life and Non-Life Insurance Products Lexology 10th Jan 2019
The Office of Insurance Commission (OIC) has issued Notifications re: Rules and Procedures for the Issuing and Offering for Sale of Insurance Products by Life and Non-Life Insurance Companies, and the Operations of Insurance Agents and Licensed Brokers (Notifications). The Notifications came into effect on 1 January 2019 and have replaced its previous drafts.

Food & Agriculture

Govt to create data centre to help farm supply match demand The Nation 16th Jan 2019
According to Chantanont Wankejorn, deputy chief of OAE, more than 30 agencies will be involved in the data analysis scheme to provide decision-makers with more accurate and relevant data in line with the government’s Thailand 4.0 initiate for agriculture. Agencies under the jurisdiction of Interior, Commerce and Finance ministries will also participate in this scheme, including the Department of Provincial Administration and the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives. The government needs to integrate data on farm output, crop timing, and specific locations of major farming areas so that marketing and sales units could use the data to deliver better results for farmers in terms of selling price. The data analytics project covers the registration of farmers, their cooperatives, output, production factors, farming areas, land use, irrigation, marketing and other crucial information. In addition, artificial intelligence (AI) will be used to improve the management of farm sector.

Govt distances itself from PPRP land plan Bangkok Post 16th Jan 2019
The government has distanced itself from a controversial land policy floated by the pro-regime Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) that would allow farmers holding Sor Por Kor documents to seek commercial gains from their properties. Government spokesman Buddhipongse Punnakanta told the Bangkok Post Tuesday Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha disagreed with the idea. He insisted this was the PPRP's proposal and it was acting unilaterally. His comment came after some Thai media reported  that Gen Prayut had ordered his deputy Somkid Jatusripitak, in charge of the economy, to reject the proposal.

Regulations being drafted for growing medical marijuana The Nation 15th Jan 2019
FDA deputy secretary-general Dr Surachoke Tangwiwat revealed yesterday that these regulations would govern key issues regarding approval of cultivation, manufacturing and imports. “For example, we now plan to allow community enterprises to seek permits to grow medical marijuana, too,” he said.  According to him, “closed-system cultivation” for medical marijuana does not mean that cannabis must be grown inside greenhouses only. “It is just that cannabis must be grown inside an area with clear fences and anti-theft systems,” he said.

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.

U.S. exports of DDG to Thailand halted World Grain 14th Jan 2019
U.S. shipments of distillers’ dried grains (DDG) to Thailand have been halted due to new fumigation requirements imposed after beetles were discovered in a shipment in 2018, according to a report by Reuters. Traders told Reuters trade has stopped as the two governments negotiate which gas is best for fumigation. The report said that since Jan. 1, Thai regulations require all DDG shipments entering the country to be fumigated with methyl bromide, but many U.S. shippers would prefer to use phosphine.

Beetles halt U.S. distillers' grains exports to Thailand Reuters 11th Jan 2019
Exports of U.S. distillers’ dried grains to Thailand have stopped due to new fumigation requirements installed after beetles were discovered in a shipment last year, American traders said on Friday. Thai government officials said U.S. shipments required certificates showing they had been “properly fumigated.” Traders said sales had effectively been halted as the two governments negotiate which gas is best for the fumigation. Thailand in 2017 was the fourth-biggest overseas market for so-called DDGs, importing 738,413 tonnes of the high-protein feed used at poultry and livestock farms, USDA data showed.

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

Controlling medical prices pose a tough test The Nation 23rd Jan 2019
WITH THE Cabinet approving the resolution to control the prices of medical supplies and services yesterday, a bigger test awaits the government as to whether it will be able to ensure implementation. Complaints are now growing from private medical facilities that warn the regulation poses a threat to make the country a medical hub and also denies people alternatives. And now claims are being made that people buying health insurance will also bear the brunt. “We will monitor the government’s next moves closely,” Supatra Nacapew, the chief of the Independent Consumer Protection Committee’s sub-panel on food, drugs and other health products, said yesterday.

Thailand's ban on e-cigarettes under study after enforcement problems emerge Eleven Media 22nd Jan 2019
A working panel led by the Commerce Ministry has assigned the Tobacco Control Research and Knowledge Management Centre (TRC) to conduct a study in response to legal hurdles affecting implementation of the ban. The panel was set up late last year to reconcile conflicting opinions on both sides of the debate about banning e-cigarettes and how to enforce the ban, its chair Keerati Rushchano, deputy director-general of the Department of Foreign Trade, said.

Group hopes Cabinet decision on medical price controls The Nation 22nd Jan 2019
The group is also claiming that approving the price control will not affect Thailand’s goal to become a medical hub, but will only help curb the overly high fees charged by private hospitals.  Supatra Nacapew, chief of the Independent Consumer Protection Committee’s sub-panel on food, drugs and other health products, said her group hopes that Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong will submit the proposal to the Cabinet today as he had promised earlier. Her group also hopes the proposal is approved, so a committee can later work out the details on implementation.  “Though medicines come under the Internal Trade Department’s list of price-controlled goods, little has been done because private hospitals still charge 400 times and sometimes even 700 times the price stated on the label,” she said.

Pollution dept, City Hall mull 'haze emergency' Bangkok Post 22nd Jan 2019
A worried Pollution Control Department (PCD) and City Hall are considering declaring Bangkok a "pollution control zone" after haze in the capital worsened on Monrday. Chatri Watthanakhechon, director of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration's (BMA) Environment Office, said fine particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres, known as PM 2.5, exceeded the 50 microgrammes per cubic metre (µg/m³) safety limit in all the capital's districts. City Hall is following up its attempts to clean major roads until air quality improves.

Chikungunya virus infects 121 in Surin Bangkok Post 19th Jan 2019
An outbreak of Chikungunya disease, a virus spread by mosquitoes, has struck three villages in this northeastern province, with 121 people falling ill. Theeraphol Sakulrat, chief of Sikhoraphum district, said affected residents of the villages in tambon Jaraphat had sought treatment at clinics in the province. Many suffered from high fever and pain in their ankles.   Health officials found 121 residents were infected, he said after visiting patients in the tambon where the outbreak was reported.

Ministry targets factories Bangkok Post 16th Jan 2019
The Industry Ministry has ordered all agencies under its umbrella to set stricter measures governing factories producing high levels of fine dust in Bangkok, and it plans to take legal action against any that exceed established pollution limits. Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana said he will establish a working group to address the dust pollution problem and further investigate industrial operations that may be the source of any pollution problems. He called for inspections of factories across the nation, especially 14,000 that use solid fuel boilers and those with high dust emissions, such as stone mills, asphalt plants and cement factories. This will give the provincial industrial administration the authority to prosecute factories found guilty of producing high dust emissions, such as those above 2.5 microns (PM2.5).

Smog serious threat to public health: experts The Nation 14th Jan 2019
AUTHORITIES MUST take the air pollution problem in Bangkok seriously and strictly enforce mitigation measures to protect people’s health, academics said, while warning of serious financial costs to match. They pointed out that the country would face billions of baht in additional health costs unless the severe air pollution blanketing the capital was promptly curbed. The pollution continued to remain at harmful levels for the third straight day yesterday and the situation was likely to remain critical for at least another month due to weather patterns, said Witsanu Attavanich, associate professor of economics at Kasetsart University.  He feared both state agencies and the public were largely underestimating the dangers of air pollution and proper prevention and mitigation measures were still inadequate.

Cabinet approves price control at hospitals Bangkok Post 22nd Jan 2019
Prices of drugs, medical supplies and medical services will soon be overseen by a joint panel after the cabinet approved adding them to the price control list on Tuesday. Unlike other goods, the addition to these products to the list does not mean their prices would be capped, Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong said after the cabinet meeting.   

The healthy fight over medical prices Bangkok Post 21st Jan 2019
Controlling medical and healthcare service prices remains a hot topic in Thailand's healthcare industry, with the move poised to become an epic struggle between private hospitals, state officials and consumer representatives. On Dec 27, the Commerce Ministry announced plans to put medical-related fees, including drugs, supplies and service charges, on the price control list. After listing this category as under price control, a subcommittee will convene to decide reasonable rates for services and establish price ceilings. The Commerce Ministry needs to hold more discussions with all stakeholders to ensure that the measures, once put in place, will be fair to all parties -- consumers and private hospitals, said Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong. "These services are performed differently at private and public hospitals using equipment of different quality," said Siripen Supakankunti, a professor at Chulalongkorn University's Centre for Health Economics. "No one knows what price we should charge for public and private services because we don't know the actual cost of each healthcare product," she said.

Commerce Ministry stands by price control list Bangkok Post 12th Jan 2019
Despite growing opposition from private hospitals, the Commerce Ministry is standing by plans to find appropriate measures to keep a lid on medical supplies and medical service charges to prevent price gouging. Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong on Friday said the public could rest assured that the ministry will proceed with putting medical supplies and medical service charges on the state price control list. But he acknowledged that the plan to forward the proposal to the cabinet for approval this coming Tuesday could be delayed after growing complaints from private hospitals that their business will suffer under the new regime.

ICT

NBTC board approves Oct 31 for 2G shutdown Bangkok Post 23rd Jan 2019
The board of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) approved on Tuesday a timeline for the 2G mobile system shutdown at midnight Oct 31. The move will help mobile operators more efficiently manage network capacity, paving the way for 5G wireless broadband service by 2020. The major mobile operators must seriously begin preparing all related backup systems to serve the transfer of 2G users to 3G and 4G systems, including new promotion packages, said the regulator. The NBTC will report the move to the cabinet to ask for cooperation with the governors of all provinces, to help alert 2G users nationwide.

Asian firms eye 700MHz auction Bangkok Post 23rd Jan 2019
Two foreign mobile operators expressed interest in joining the 700-megahertz (MHz) spectrum auction unless the reserve price is based on the previous licence auction. The two overseas operators are from Malaysia and South Korea. Representatives of the two companies recently met Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), asking for details of the auction's procedures. Meanwhile, the NBTC board yesterday insisted on holding the 700MHz auction date in May as originally planned, despite its subcommittee previously proposing the auction date be moved to December.

NBTC aproves termination of 2G service on Oct 31 Bangkok Post 22nd Jan 2019
The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) has approved the termination of 2G mobile phone service on Oct 31 this year to pave the way for the 5G adoption. Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the NBTC, said on Tuesday that the NBTC board resolved to shut down the 2G mobile service on Oct 31 this year as proposed by the three major mobile phone operators. Advanced Info Service (AIS), through its subsidiary Advanced Wireless Network (AWN), Total Access Communication's (DTAC) TriNet and True Move H Universal Communication (TUC) earlier submitted letters to the telecom regulator asking for the termination of the 2G mobile service.

Digital bills pass second reading in Assembly The Nation 18th Jan 2019
The six digital bills are: Electronics Transaction Organisation Restructuring, Data Protection, Cybersecurity, Council of Thailand Digital and Society, Digital ID, and Electronics Transaction Officer. The government has argued that the bills together would drive a move toward “digital government” through developing the required infrastructure, including government Big Data, a data centre, cloud services, and one- stop service. The legislation would also help to reduce the investment duplication among governmental organisations in Big Data, security and data protection.

ETDA plans digital workforce Bangkok Post 17th Jan 2019
The Electronic Transactions Development Agency (ETDA) aims to attract 1 million teenagers to join the e-commerce workforce and 200,000 micro-SMEs to go online this year to boost the online economy. By 2023, ETDA wants to have 8 million workers and 1.6 million micro small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs), with local merchants selling products in China in collaboration with Dongguan China Council for the Promotion of International Trade. "We see potential growth for e-commerce business if Thais act now and build a digitally skilled workforce that serves the industry trends," said Surangkana Wayuparp, president of ETDA. The agency earlier predicted Thailand's total e-commerce market value at around 3 trillion baht in 2018, growing from 1.8 trillion in 2017.

Caught in a clash of the titans Bangkok Post 14th Jan 2019
Thais are among the most tech-savvy, social-media-obsessed people on the planet, as seen by how they are constantly on their phones for hours, sharing their lives on apps like Facebook, Line and Instagram. But all this personal data is not staying in Thailand. Instead it goes to data servers in foreign countries such as Singapore and the US, where most social media companies store information from Thailand. This potential problem is only exacerbated by a "tech war" between China and the US, in which both superpowers compete for influence over how the future digital world will operate. While this is not an apparent problem for everyday people, some are concerned that Thailand is losing its "digital sovereignty", or control over its own data and regulations regarding the internet. This could have dire implications for privacy protection and cybersecurity. The problem does not extend solely to social media. Vital tech infrastructure such as data centres and 5G telecom networks are being built with technology from Chinese companies with dubious track records when it comes to illegally sharing data with the Chinese government. This poses a big question: how can a relatively small nation like Thailand take back control of its digital sovereignty while being surrounded by behemoths like the US and China?

Alibaba, WHA make plans for e-commerce project Bangkok Post 14th Jan 2019
Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group and SET-listed WHA Corporation Plc expect to announce a joint investment plan some time this year, says Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana. WHA was recently promoted for new special economic zones by the ad hoc committee for developmental administration of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC). WHA will be granted 232 rai in Chachoengsao's Bang Pakong district for an e-commerce special economic zone, with an investment of 1.3 billion baht in robotics, automation, logistics and a digital centre. The EEC Policy Committee, chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, will acknowledge and approve the proposal of new special economic zones on Jan 23, Mr Uttama said.

Infrastructure

Cabinet approves 116 projects for South in 4 years Bangkok Post 23rd Jan 2019
The cabinet on Tuesday approved the development of the Southern Economic Corridor (SEC), covering 116 projects worth 106.79 billion baht. The 116 projects will be developed on a combined 300,000 square metres in Chumphon, Ranong, Surat Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat during 2019-22. Nathporn Chatusripitak, an adviser to the minister of the Prime Minister's Office, said the four-year development will cover four key strategic plans, with the first aiming to develop the SEC as the gateway to South Asia and a link to the Eastern Economic Corridor. The first plan covers 11 projects worth 50.3 billion baht, including the upgrade of Ranong deep-sea port and airports in four provinces.

PM okays B17.5m for housing project Bangkok Post 16th Jan 2019
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has approved a 17.5-million-baht rehabilitation plan for a controversial housing project for staff of the Administrative Office of Appeal Region 5 in Chiang Mai. Government spokesman Buddhipongse Punnakanta said the budget, already held by Chiang Mai, would be spent mainly on repopulating forested areas that were cut down during the construction of the housing project. The rehabilitation plan won approval from Gen Prayut last month, he said.

B18bn projects approved for upper North Bangkok Post 15th Jan 2019
The cabinet has approved in principle 10 infrastructure projects worth a combined 17.7 billion baht for four upper northern provinces. Government spokesman Buddhipongse Punnakanta said on Tuesday a meeting of cabinet ministers, governors and representatives from the private sector, chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, agreed in principle the 10 infrastructure development projects for Lamphun, Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and Lampang. The meeting took place shortly before the mobile cabinet meeting in Lampang on Tuesday.

Rail work puts squeeze on city Bangkok Post 13th Jan 2019
While the rail system for public transport is under construction around the country, traffic chaos can be expected throughout this year in Bangkok, particularly in the north, as several projects gather steam. The Green Line extension linking Mo Chit to Khu Khot in Pathum Thani, via Saphan Mai, is still under construction. The 19-kilometre project is now 69% complete and is expected to be functioning next year. Motorists along the route can expect traffic woes in some stretches as some traffic lanes are still closed to make way for construction. Work is also proceeding on the Pink Line that connects Khae Rai in Nonthaburi to Min Buri and the Yellow Line linking Lat Phrao with Samrong in Samut Prakan. Work on the 30.4km Yellow Line has already caused traffic snarls on Lat Phrao Road, particularly during rush hours. The two projects are due to be launched in 2021.

BoI to focus on rail and cruise ship port investment The Nation 11th Jan 2019
“Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha stated that he wants the BoI to support both foreign and domestic investment into the country’s rail system,” BoI secretary-general, Duangjai Asawachintachit, said at a press conference after a BoI meeting with the Prime Minister.  Under the BoI investment package, business projects concerning the rail system and related sectors that apply for BoI promotions by December, 2021, will receive a tax reduction of 50 per cent for three to five years, she said. Projects that are located in the northeastern region of Thailand such as Korat and Khonkaen province and surrounding areas, will receive the tax reduction for five years, she said.  Duangjai also said that the BoI is looking to encourage investment in the construction of Thailand’s own train assembly factory as it will help reduce the burden on the country’s imports.

Travel & Tourism

Tourism fair at Lumpini Park aims to lure 600,000 visitors Bangkok Post 23rd Jan 2019
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) hopes to attract more than 600,000 local and foreign visitors to join Thailand Tourism Festival 2019 (TTF 2019), which kicks off on Wednesday and runs through Sunday at Lumpini Park. TAT governor Yuthasak Supasorn said the event aims to inspire Thais, expatriates and tourists to travel around Thailand in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way, with the theme of green travel. Tour packages for 90 new routes will be available, which he estimated will help increase travellers to provincial destinations. Mr Yuthasak said the fair showcases five tourism villages representing the regions of the country. Each village comes with its own theme or stage for activities and performances.

Pattaya maps out water safety plan Bangkok Post 22nd Jan 2019
The Marine Department has unveiled a new plan for Pattaya to safeguard tourists who engage in water activities at this beach resort city. The plan was ushered in after a tragic accident in July involving the tour boat Phoenix that capsized off Phuket, killing 47 visitors from China. The incident is believed to have contributed to a significant drop in the number of Chinese tourists to Thailand. Ekkarat Khantharo, director of the 6th Marine Region Office, Pattaya, and tourist police met Chinese embassy second secretary Zhou Guangxu on Monday to discuss safety measures during the Chinese New Year, or Golden Week, from Feb 4-10.

TAT shows foreign visitors by the numbers The Nation 20th Jan 2019
Of the 38 million foreign visitors to Thailand last year, 10.6 million came from China, 4.1 million from Malaysia and 1.8 million each from South Korea and Laos.  There were 1.6 million Japanese visitors, 1.5 million Russians and Indians, 1.3 million Singaporeans, and 1.1 million Vietnamese and Americans. The centre reported the foreign visitors generated Bt2 trillion in revenue, up from Bt1.8 trillion earned from 35.6 million travellers in 2017 and Bt1.6 trillion from 32.5 million visitors in 2016.

Private, public sectors keen on new app to promote tourism Bangkok Post 11th Jan 2019
Some 49 private and public institutes have entered into an agreement to establish a new social enterprise called Thai Digital Platform Co to provide integrated tourism information about Thailand. Under the plan, a new mobile application, TagThai, pronounced similar to takthai (greetings) in Thai, will be introduced in April. The service is scheduled to be fully operational in June, said Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat. The app will feature information in Thai, English and Chinese.