Thailand Update: March 20, 2019

Thailand Update | March 20, 2019
Authors: Riley Smith, Ella Duangkaew, David Mineo
 
LOOKING AHEAD
 
 

March 26/27: Thailand Committee Call feat. Chargé d’affaires Peter Haymond

March 29: Roundtable with Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Lao PDR

 
THE COUNCIL'S TAKE
 
 

In Memoriam of H.E. Virachai Plasai, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Thailand to the United States

The US-ASEAN Business Council extends its deepest condolences to the Plasai family, the Royal Thai Government, and the people of the Kingdom of Thailand on the passing of H.E. Virachai Plasai, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Thailand to the United States. The Ambassador passed on March 16 at the age of 58. The Council will deeply miss Ambassador Virachai and cherishes his tireless efforts to advance Thai-U.S. relations as well as his continual support of the Council and its mission. For more information, please see our press release here

Thailand’s Decision to Postpone CPTPP Application Unlikely to Signal Hesitance at Joining Trade Agreement

On March 18, the Ministry of Commerce (MOC) announced that Thailand would postpone its application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) until after the country’s March 24 elections. The Government of Thailand had originally planned to submit its application this month but ultimately decided to hold off until after the next government is in place.

The current Government’s decision to delay Thailand’s application is not indicative of fundamental disagreements within the Thai government or opposition from the public to CPTPP. MOC appeared ready to conclude negotiations on March 2, and Thailand appears cognizant of the benefits that CPTPP will yield to its neighbors who are signatories, especially Vietnam. According to Auramon Supthaweethum, Director-General of MOC’s Trade Negotiations Department, Thailand will most likely join CPTPP under Thailand’s new government, as membership in the agreement comes with economic and FDI benefits. Rather, it is likely that the current government decided that it was prudent to hand negotiations over to the next government because it is the latter that would have had final veto power over Thailand’s entry anyway.

The CPTPP is designed to facilitate multilateral trade and investment, reduce barriers to trade, and protect intellectual property. Over the course of 2018, seven of its 11 members ratified CPTPP. Having required only six countries to ratify it for the agreement to come into force, the CPTPP officially took effect on December 30, 2018. Out of the four ASEAN nations that are in the CPTPP – Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam – only Singapore and Vietnam have ratified it. Once all 11 members ratify the agreement, the CPTPP will account for nearly 13% of global GDP. The CPTPP grew out of the United States’ decision to exit its forebear, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), in January 2017 and is comprised of the 11 remaining members of that proposed trade agreement.

National Legislative Assembly Approves Amendments to the New Electronic Transaction Act, but Lack of Clarity on Key Provisions Could Make Compliance Difficult

Over the course of two sessions in January and February 2019, Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly (NLA) endorsed a series of amendments to the Electronic Transaction Act (ETA), amendments that the private sector has long awaited since the Cabinet approved the ETA in principle in 2015. Upon King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s approval the new ETA will be published in the Government Gazette and become law.

According to the law firm Baker McKenzie, some of the most notable amendments are as follows:

  • The definition of e-signatures has been revised to include “a procedure which can identify a signature owner and show his or her intention in respect of the message in electronic data.” The new definition accounts for signatories who are not actually involved in the contract, like witnesses or notaries;
  • Responses to invitations to make an electronic offer will no longer result in a concluded contract. Rather receiver responses will be considered offers that must be accepted by the sender of the invitation before the contract is concluded;
  • Automatic electronic data exchange systems (AEDES) are defined to recognize automated electronic transactions between AEDES and humans as well as between AEDESs;
  • Authentication of digital identities—previously covered in the Digital ID Bill—is now recognized under the ETA;
  • Nullification of a previous requirement in the July 2018 draft version of the ETA, which stipulates that businesses conducting electronic transactions must have an office or representative in Thailand unless otherwise exempted by the Prime Minister. Under the new ETA, a Royal Decree can regulate electronic businesses and demand registration or licensing in the event that the business affects financial and commercial security, the security of the electronic transfers systems, or public security.

While the removal of the requirement to establish offices in Thailand is likely to allay some industry concerns, the amendment’s vague language could create new regulatory uncertainties. This is especially the case for the language concerning security threats, particularly as other amendments function to define terms, set boundaries, and clarify the new electronic transactions environment. As in the case of Thailand’s new Cybersecurity Law, the ETA’s lack of clarity in defining types of activities that may constitute a security threat are likely to make compliance difficult for businesses and could allow authorities to wield the law broadly to restrict certain electronic transactions.

 
IN THIS UPDATE
 
 
Regional Affairs
Second Thai-Myanmar friendship bridge opens
Laos, Thailand target $12B bilateral trade by 2021
China wants EEC estate land
Thailand offers loans for Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam entrepreneurs
Myanmar, Thailand border trade hit 1.4 bln USD in 1st half of FY 2018-19
Japanese vow backing for high-speed rail

National Affairs
Election 'war room' polices social media
Early voting kicks off with huge crowds, long queues
Thai ambassador Virachai Plasai dies at age 58
Civil union bill may offer LGBT edge

Customs
Thailand delays trans-Pacific FTA application
AoT's duty-free auction on hold
Thai Customs seize over 598.62M baht worth of goods in five months
Betting on paperless customs

Economics
BoT holds key rate, cuts 2019 growth, export forecasts
Prayut eyes foreign investment hub
Fitch frets over post-election transition
Apisak promotes reinvestment
R&D spending continues private-boosted trajectory

Energy
Egat to open LNG supplier bid next month
Electricity agency, Laos renew PPAs
Wasting away to make energy
PTT buys palm oil for biodiesel
ERC introduces 100MW household solar scheme
Key parties push renewable power
Japan carmakers angle for EV primacy in Southeast Asia

Financial Services
Thailand Post adds rural finance options
No fines for SMEs with single account
Derivatives lure Thai investors
SET to kick off digital operations next year
KBank focuses on mortgages
TMB new issue shares set at B2.17
Fitch says merger could tilt positive
Finance Ministry to raise post-merger capital

Food & Agriculture
BAAC preparing drought support
Alternatives for farmers
Tobacco farmers seek support from political parties against tax hike
‘Cruel marketing in a friendly cloak’: drinks firms taken on by government
Partners aim for SWEET rewards

Health & Life Sciences
Air pollution clinics bound for the North
Minding the measles
Protecting children from allergies
Carcinogenic chemical concerns spur drug recall
Govt bites back in bid to quell rabies
FDA recalls Lanzaar 50 and Lanzaar 100 over cancer fears
Candidates outline healthcare policies
Thailand to start testing medical marijuana on patients

ICT
OIC working with firms on data law protections
Somkid says 5G infrastructure a priority
NBTC targets batteries in wearables
BSA expects drop in unlicensed software
New data platform to fuel 'smart cities'
30 smart cities targeted to start as first proposal call launches
Personal privacy in the balance
Thailand advised to take advantage of popularity of robots
Southeast Asia hastens 5G shift to close development gap
Cyber law raises eyebrows

Infrastructure
Airport rail pact 'needs fine-tuning'
E-train scheme sped up to counter jams
B417bn bill for water management
B79bn highway plan takes heavy flak from residents

Travel & Tourism
Residents demand official review of motorway project
Tourism Authority of Thailand sees 2.3m for Songkran
Somkid seeks FEC support for tourism
Court gives Similan Islands green light to limit visitors
SRT banks on new dual track lifting passenger numbers
Airport rail decision due on March 19
 
ARTICLE CLIPS
 
 
Regional Affairs

Second Thai-Myanmar friendship bridge opens Bangkok Post 19th Mar 2019
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday opened the second Thai-Myanmar bridge across the Moei River. The opening ceremony was held in the middle of the new bridge, which links Mae Sot district of Tak province and Myawaddy township in Myanmar. The completion of the new bridge showed the good ties between the two countries, and the relationship  should last, Gen Prayut said. The bridge is part of the development of Thailand's East-West Economic Corridor and would boost economic development in Mae Sot and Myawaddy, and lead to other connecting transport projects, the prime minister said. The two national leaders posed for photos in the middle of the bridge and took the opportunity to discuss bilateral issues, including the problem of smoke-haze air pollution.

Laos, Thailand target $12B bilateral trade by 2021 Phnom Penh Post 18th Mar 2019
Laos, Thailand target $12B bilateral trade by 2021 Laos and Thailand have committed to increasing bilateral trade volume by 10 to 15 per cent annually as the two governments expect to meet the target of $12 billion in 2021, according to the Lao trade minister. As part of promoting an increase in two-way trade volume, the Lao and Thai governments have closely cooperated in organising trade and investment promotion activities including trade fairs at the local and central levels. One such initiative to promote trade is Top Thai Brands 2019, which was officially launched in Vientiane on Wednesday and ran until Sunday. Last year, Laos’ trade deficit stood at $373 million in the first quarter of the year due to a large influx of imported materials to supply infrastructure and hydropower development and domestic production, according to a report from the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.

China wants EEC estate land Bangkok Post 15th Mar 2019
A group of Chinese investors, led by representatives of China's government, has expressed interest in buying 10,000 rai of industrial estate land in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) to create its own community and improve its supply chain in Asean. The Chinese government and private sector held talks a few weeks ago with the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT) about staying in the same industrial estate development area. IEAT governor Somchint Pilouk said China wants to create its own community inside the EEC to serve investors and supply chains from China to Asean. The Chinese government and investors want the Thai government to find a 10,000-rai plot in the EEC for their purchase, but Ms Somchint said finding a single plot so large will be difficult. Chinese investors are expanding their investment in Asean, focused on the 12 targeted industries that the government wants to promote. Rayong, Chon Buri and Chachoengsao are the three provinces that the investors are focused on, Ms Somchint said.

Thailand offers loans for Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam entrepreneurs The Myanmar Times 12th Mar 2019
The Export-Import Bank of Thailand (Exim Bank Thailand) has unveiled a new loan facility for entrepreneurs in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam who purchase products from Thai businesses, a move aimed at boosting exports to the subregion. Under the scheme, each borrower is offered up to US$4 million (K6.06 billion) in credit facility for a maximum 85 percent of purchase value. “CLMV is a target destination for trade and investment for Thai entrepreneurs,” he said. “Cambodia in particular is a modern trade market with high potential as a result of the country’s thriving economy and increasing purchasing power of new-generation consumers in the capital city and principal tourist towns.” The four countries are a key export destination for Thailand, with an 11.5pc share of total merchandise shipments in January. Their exports grew 17pc in 2018. Exim Thailand will work with the public and private sectors under “Team Thailand” to provide necessary information and help Thai operators iron out plans for running businesses, particularly emerging markets, Pisit said.

Myanmar, Thailand border trade hit 1.4 bln USD in 1st half of FY 2018-19 Xinhua 9th Mar 2019
Border trade between Myanmar and Thailand totaled about 1.4 billion U.S. dollars in the first half of fiscal year (FY) 2018-2019 which started in October last year, according to the figures from Myanmar's Ministry of Commerce Saturday. The country's export to neighbouring Thailand reached 985.8 million U.S. dollars while its import shared 412.9 million U.S. dollars. Myanmar carries out border trade with Thailand mainly through Tachilek, Myawady, Kawthoung, Myeik, Hteekhee, Mawtaung and Maese border checkpoints. During the period, Hteekhee border gate topped with most bilateral border trade value of 791.6 million U.S. dollars. Myanmar exports agricultural and fishery products to neighbouring Thailand and imports cosmetics, food products, machinery and raw industrial goods such as cement and fertilizers. According to the ministry's data, the total trade between Myanmar and foreign countries reached over 14.18 billion U.S. dollars, including 4.05 billion U.S. dollars' border trade during the first half of FY 2018-2019.

Japanese vow backing for high-speed rail Bangkok Post 8th Mar 2019
The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) has confirmed it will finance the high-speed rail linking the three main airports and the Eastern Economic Corridor's smart city in Chachoengsao. JBIC governor Tadashi Maeda, who met Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Thursday, and Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak said JBIC is ready to extend soft loans for the 224.54-billion-baht high-speed railway linking Don Mueang airport in Bangkok with Suvarnabhumi in Samut Prakan and U-tapao in the eastern province of Rayong. According to Mr Somkid, the Japanese bank also confirmed support for investment in the Chachoengsao smart city. JBIC has already conducted a "smart city evaluation framework" of policies and incentives that potentially attract Japanese companies, Mr Maeda said. Maj Gen Weerachon Sukondhapatipak, the government's deputy spokesman, cited Mr Maeda as saying JBIC's support to be given to the high-speed rail linking the three airports will be an example project of investment cooperation between the private sectors of Japan and China in a third country.

National Affairs

Election 'war room' polices social media Bangkok Post 18th Mar 2019
In the election "war room", authorities scroll through thousands of social media posts, looking for violations of laws restricting political parties' campaigning on social media that activists say are among the most prohibitive in the world. The monitors are on the look-out for posts that "spread lies, slander candidates, or use rude language", all violations of the new electoral law, said Sawang Boonmee, deputy secretary-general of the Election Commission, who gave a Reuters team an exclusive tour of the facility. When they find an offending post, on, for example, Facebook, they print it out, date-stamp it, and file it in a clear plastic folder, to be handed over to the Election Commission and submitted to Facebook for removal. "When we order content to be removed, we'll reach out to the platforms, and they are happy to cooperate with us and make these orders efficient," Mr Sawang said. Mr Sawang said the tough electoral laws governing social media for the March 24 election are a necessary innovation aimed at preventing manipulation that has plagued other countries' elections in recent years.

Early voting kicks off with huge crowds, long queues Bangkok Post 17th Mar 2019
Hundreds of thousands of voters crowded into schools, parking lots and temples across Thailand on Sunday, eager to cast an early ballot a week before the country's first election in eight years. Advance voting is usually a tepid affair, but on Sunday excitement was high as voters turned up in droves to polling stations. More than 2.3 million people are expected to vote before the official March 24 poll date. Since a 2014 coup ousted then-premier Yingluck Shinawatra, the junta has repeatedly postponed democratic elections -- much to the chagrin of the public. "I finally have a chance to cast my vote as I've waited for so long," said 48-year-old Paka Kaengkhiew as she stood in line in front of the Phra Khanong district office in Bangkok. In Dusit district -- home to military offices and government buildings -- voters crowded into a schoolyard before a polling station there opened. People dressed in their work clothes -- military uniforms, hospital scrubs and more casual attire -- waited patiently to cast their ballot, aided by student helpers.

Thai ambassador Virachai Plasai dies at age 58 Bangkok Post 17th Mar 2019
Virachai Plasai, a veteran diplomat best known for his role in the contentious Preah Vihear temple case, has died in the United States at age 58. Virachai, who was appointed as Thailand's ambassador to the United States in June last year, passed away peacefully at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore at 12.43am local time yesterday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Busadee Santipitaks said. Nattawut Pothisaro, former Thai ambassador to Cambodia, said he was shocked by the loss of Virachai, who he said was very close to him. Mr Nattawut said that when he served as the deputy permanent secretary for the Foreign Ministry, he was working closely with Virachai, then-ambassador to the Netherlands, in the dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over the Phrea Vihear temple. "It was a pity to lose a good and smart person," said Mr Nattawut. "When I learned of his death, I was shocked. I could not believe he would leave us so prematurely." Virachai had been receiving treatment at the facility near Washington DC since March 3 for Myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of bone marrow cancer.

Civil union bill may offer LGBT edge Bangkok Post 14th Mar 2019
Thailand is advancing same-sex partnership legislation. And one of the nation's biggest industries, tourism, is paying close attention. Amid an election campaign, a measure that would give gay and lesbian couples more rights -- yet doesn't legalise same-sex marriage -- was approved by the cabinet and was headed to parliament. Though the session ended before the bill became law, the tourism industry is using the occasion to actively promote Thailand as an LGBT-friendly destination. "Thailand already has products and offerings catering to this market, and now our focus will be how we can better serve them," Srisuda Wanapinyosak, a deputy governor for the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), said in an interview. This year the TAT will host an LGBT travel symposium and plans more participation in pride parades in such cities as New York and Tel Aviv. Last month, it released a promotional video featuring LGBT travellers, including well-known lesbian bloggers Roxanne Weijer and Maartje Hensen. At a Madrid tourism event in January, the industry had a booth for the first time promoting Thailand specifically to gay and lesbian travellers. The country's tourism industry represents about one-fifth of the economy and is growing at a faster pace than other sectors. The LGBT market has become key to the industry's fortunes.

Customs

Thailand delays trans-Pacific FTA application Bangkok Post 18th Mar 2019
Thailand will delay its application to join a trans-Pacific free trade agreement until after next Sunday's election, a Commerce Ministry official said Monday. Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general of the ministry's Trade Negotiations Department, said the government, which had earlier intended to apply to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership within this month, will instead await a mandate from the next government. Mrs Auramon said Thailand is likely to join the CPTPP since a study conducted by her department on impacts of participation found that it would benefit the Thai economy and draw more foreign investment. The CPTPP, which entered into force last Dec 30, currently comprises Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam, most of which have ratified it. The agreement is designed to cut tariffs on agricultural and industrial products, ease investment restrictions and enhance intellectual property protection.

AoT's duty-free auction on hold Bangkok Post 16th Mar 2019
The Transport Ministry has put the brakes on the Airport of Thailand Plc's (AoT) plan to auction a single concession to run duty-free shops at four airports after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha raised concerns that the business would be "monopolised". As a state enterprise under the ministry, the AoT is required to address all concerns, Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said yesterday, adding that the auction will be postponed until all controversial issues are considered. Mr Arkhom gave the order after a meeting with AoT president Nitinai Sirismatthakarn, who earlier said the AoT took Gen Prayut's call to review the auction plan into account, but said it will not change its decision because "we found no new reason to reverse the decision". However, Mr Arkhom wants the AoT to look again at whether the single concession will lead to a monopoly and whether it violates the newly amended Public-Private Partnership Promotion Act, also known as the PPP Act. The questions followed the AoT's move to call bids for running duty-free shops at Suvarnabhumi, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Hat Yai airports under a single concession.

Thai Customs seize over 598.62M baht worth of goods in five months Bangkok Post 10th Mar 2019
Thailand’s Customs Department seized various goods, including smuggled luxurious items, counterfeit products and drugs worth about 598.62 million baht between October last year and February this year. Thailand Customs Department spokesperson Chaiyuth Kamkoon said the seizure comprised 17,659 pieces of smuggled luxurious goods worth 166.618 million baht, and 110,322 pieces of counterfeit products worth 121.730 million baht. “Also seized were various types of drugs including heroin, cocaine and Yaba pills worth 137.914 million baht,” he said. Chaiyuth said they had also confiscated 13.529 million cigarettes worth 60.946 million baht, 12,216 bottles of alcoholic beverages worth 4.2 million baht and 991,476 litres of fuel worth 23.21 million baht. “We have also foiled several attempts to smuggle in protected animals species listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) worth 40.39 million baht.

Betting on paperless customs Bangkok Post 9th Mar 2019
The Customs Department hopes that Thailand will rise in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business rankings after the launch of Pre-Arrival Processing (PAP) e-bill payment and e-customs clearance. PAP has been widely adopted in most customs ports, with the percentage of pre-arrival manifests for both sea and air cargo reaching 99% of the total manifest at the end of 2018, said Krisada Chinavicharana, director-general of the Customs Department. With PAP, exporters are allowed to submit advanced electronic manifests ahead of cargo arrivals, while importers can submit import declarations and pay taxes and duties in advance. PAP shortens cargo clearance duration by 2-6 hours for air freight and from 37 hours to 31 hours for sea freight.

Economics

BoT holds key rate, cuts 2019 growth, export forecasts Bangkok Post 20th Mar 2019
The central bank held its benchmark interest rate steady for a second straight meeting on Wednesday as expected, and cut its forecasts for economic growth and exports this year. The central bank cut its forecasts for 2019 economic growth and exports for the second time in three months on Wednesday, but kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged, saying domestic demand is picking up some of the slack. The Bank of Thailand (BoT), as expected, left the one-day repurchase rate steady at 1.75% for a second straight meeting. All 19 economists polled by Reuters had predicted no change to policy on Wednesday. "Despite a slight downward revision to economic projection, the Thai economy as a whole was expected to continue expanding around its potential on the back of domestic demand," the bank's monetary policy committee (MPC) said in a statement.

Prayut eyes foreign investment hub Bangkok Post 15th Mar 2019
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha urged foreign investors on Thursday to invest and expand their businesses within the country, as Thailand has this year become the Asean chair. The prime minister said Thailand is driving concrete development with the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) to help stimulate the country's economy and reduce economic inequality among people, claiming China, Japan, the US and several European countries have currently invested millions of US dollars into the project. With the Digital Asean plan for regional connectivity, the government has started rolling out several different economic schemes. "We have been developing digital payments and local currency transactions," he told foreign investors at the CLSA Asean Forum 2019 being held in Bangkok from Wednesday until Friday. CLSA is a capital markets and investment group focused on alternative investment, asset management, corporate finance and capital markets, securities and wealth management for corporate and institutional clients around the world. "We are also installing WiFi nationwide, upgrading 4G to 5G, and laying the Thailand-Hong Kong marine cable." However, Gen Prayut stressed that cybersecurity will be tightened for the benefit of foreign investors.

Fitch frets over post-election transition Bangkok Post 15th Mar 2019
Developments in the lead-up to Thailand's election on March 24 underscore the political cleavages that persist as the country returns to civilian rule, says Fitch Ratings. "We noted political uncertainty around the transition as a constraint to Thailand's BBB+ rating in our last rating review in December," Fitch said. "The rating already takes into account a sizeable degree of political risk. Renewed disruptions could have a material rating impact if we assessed they were large enough to have a negative effect on the economic outlook." Thailand's politics have been dominated over the last two decades by tensions between parties aligned with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra that derive their support from rural areas and political parties with strong urban support. These divides sparked a number of disruptive political demonstrations in Bangkok during 2006-2014, including coups. Fitch's baseline expectation for a smooth election remains. But the election outcome is highly uncertain. Risks of renewed political instability during the return to civilian rule are elevated, and may have been exacerbated by the events of recent months. Thailand's economy expanded by 4.1% in 2018, its fastest pace since 2012. Exports weakened in January, and slowing external demand is likely to weigh on economic growth over the coming year.

Apisak promotes reinvestment Bangkok Post 14th Mar 2019
Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong has urged state enterprises to shun using profits derived from the domestic market to fund overseas investments and to invest them locally instead. Unlike the private sector, state enterprises should earmark profits earned from the domestic market for local investment to strengthen the country, Mr Apisak said at yesterday’s SOE CEO Forum. Some state enterprises are using the profits contributed by the local market to invest in foreign equities, he said without naming any names. If state enterprises can raise their efficiency, it will be a key factor in levelling the playing field with the private sector, Mr Apisak said. Profit maximisation is not state enterprises’ mission, which is giving back to society and the people, he said, adding that they should still make enough profit to fund business operations. He offered specialised financial institutions as an example. They are tasked with helping low-income earners access financial sources.

R&D spending continues private-boosted trajectory Bangkok Post 12th Mar 2019
Thailand's R&D spending was a year ahead of schedule, reaching 1% of GDP in 2017, worth 155 billion baht, mainly driven by big corporations aspiring to produce high value-added products, with the automotive, food and petroleum sectors leading the pack. The country aims to have R&D spending reach 1.5% of GDP by 2021 and 2% of GDP or 340 billion baht by 2026 through a research and innovation fund, skilled research development and shifting to frontier research on food and nutrition, aerospace, agriculture and the circular economy. The private sector needs new skills in the workforce for future industries, with some 107,046 jobs projected in the next five years in digital, aeronautics/logistics, medical, automation/robotics and fuel/biochemicals fields. The private sector continues to drive innovation in Thailand because of intense competition, and businesses have created differentiation by offering high-value products, said Kittipong Promwong, secretary-general of National Science Technology and Innovation Policy Office. Thailand's R&D spending was 0.7-0.8% of GDP in past years and was expected to reach 1% in 2018, but the target was met one year ahead of schedule thanks to government privileges for small businesses and startups/innovation, the expansion of the Science Park in the region and the Food Innopolis scheme.

Energy

Egat to open LNG supplier bid next month Bangkok Post 20th Mar 2019
State-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) is to hold an auction between April and June this year to find a supplier for imported liquefied natural gas (LNG). Tawatchai Jakpaisal, deputy governor for the fuel sector at Egat, said registrants who qualify for the auction are expected to submit documents by April 18 and by the end of April a shortlist will be announced. In early May, the Egat board and the cabinet are expected to approve the auction process. In June, a final winner will be announced and will sign a purchase contract. The first shipment of LNG is expected in September at the receiving terminal owned and operated by national oil and gas conglomerate PTT. The terminal in Rayong's Map Ta Phut has a capacity of 10 million tonnes. Mr Tawatchai said LNG volume for the first year is expected at 280,000 tonnes, followed by 1.5 million tonnes in 2020.

Electricity agency, Laos renew PPAs Bangkok Post 19th Mar 2019
State-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) has signed two renewal power purchase agreements (PPAs) with Electric de Laos (EDL) to buy power from two hydroelectric plants: Nam Ngum 1 and Say-sed dams. Two existing PPAs end in March and both state-owned agencies have calculated new purchasing rates to reflect the actual cost of power generation. "Thailand will buy electricity from those two projects that have 300-400 megawatts," said Energy Minister Siri Jirapongphan. Egat will purchase at a rate of 1.8 baht per kilowatt-hour (unit) during peak hours and 1.53 baht per unit during off-peak hours. The average purchasing rate for Egat will stand at 1.63 baht per unit. The existing PPAs had purchasing rates of 1.33 baht per unit. EDL, the Laotian state enterprise, can sell the electricity to its own country if Laos has insufficient power.

Wasting away to make energy Bangkok Post 18th Mar 2019
Many private companies in the Thai renewable energy field are pleased with the new version of the national power development plan (PDP) for 2018-37. The PDP calls for gradually opening up investor participation in waste-to-energy power projects, setting a goal of 500 megawatts from such fuel, representing 30% of total renewable resources by 2037. Part of the impetus for this type of energy generation is that waste management has been put on the national agenda to help eliminate waste pollution in the country. The Pollution Control Department forecasts average solid waste in Thailand to increase from 40,662 tonnes per day in 2008 to 42,900 in 2023. More than 50% of waste heads to landfills and has done so for more than four decades. There were several complicated conditions and regulations that were a barrier to developing a waste-to-energy sector in Thailand during 2012-15, according to the Energy Regulatory Commission.

PTT buys palm oil for biodiesel Bangkok Post 14th Mar 2019
PTT Plc, the national oil and gas conglomerate, has agreed to buy 100,000 tonnes of crude palm oil to produce biodiesel for export in a collaborative move to shore up domestic fresh palm nut prices. Jariya Sutthichaiya, secretary-general of the Office of Agricultural Economics, said at the National Oil Palm Policy Committee meeting chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon yesterday the group endorsed PTT’s purchase plan. The government initiative is to drain the existing 400,000 tonnes of crude oil palm stock. Thailand normally maintains a crude palm oil stock of 250,000 tonnes a year. The Commerce Ministry estimated some 3 million tonnes of crude palm oil would hit the market this year, up from 2.5 million tonnes in 2018. Last year’s volume left a surplus of 500,000 tonnes, and the government moved to increase the methyl ester content to 20% in biodiesel, or B20, as well as using crude palm oil to generate electricity. Ms Jariya said the committee also authorised the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) increasing the use of crude oil palm for power generation at the Bang Pakong plant at a level of 1,500 tonnes per month, up from 1,000 tonnes. Previously, Egat agreed to absorb 160,000 tonnes of crude palm oil for power generation.

ERC introduces 100MW household solar scheme Bangkok Post 14th Mar 2019
Energy policymakers are ready to allow new solar power projects for households, with a plan to buy an initial capacity of 100 megawatts, offering a feed-in tariff of 1.68 baht per kilowatthour (unit) for 10-year contracts. Yesterday Energy Minister Siri Jirapongphan met with 50 importers, assemblers and distributors of solar panels to brief them about the new scheme. A public hearing for the scheme is scheduled from March 18 to April 1 and two state-run agencies, the Provincial Electricity Authority and the Metropolitan Electricity Authority, will buy surplus output of 70MW and 30MW, respectively. Khomgrich Tantravanich, deputy secretary-general of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), said it will announce the scheme’s details on March 20. “Under the plan, May to July will be the registration period for households wanting to participate. The ERC will announce the shortlist by August,” he said. “Contracts should be signed in October, and each household has to distribute power to the grid by 2019.” Eligible households have to install solar panels with at least a 10 kilowatt-peak per electric meter, said Mr Khomgrich.

Key parties push renewable power Bangkok Post 14th Mar 2019
Encouraging and promoting the development of renewable energy in the industrial sector should be a top priority to improve the economy over the next decade amid increasingly sophisticated disruptive technology, according to major political parties. The Fellowship of Energy Reform for Sustainability held a debate yesterday about the parties’ energy policies, with many party representatives pushing renewable power, biofuels and electric vehicles (EVs) as the next step for the sector. Atthawit Suwanpakdee, an MP candidate from the Democrat Party, said renewable resources are expected to account for a quarter of Thailand’s power generation in the power development plan, up from 5% now. The national oil and gas conglomerate PTT Plc should be promoted to spearhead the renewable power sector, he said. “PTT should be the leader of the green energy sector. The energy and power sectors also have to be deregulated to create a more competitive environment,” said Mr Atthawit. He said solar power should be promoted for households, enabling them to sell excess power to others, similar to power companies.

Japan carmakers angle for EV primacy in Southeast Asia Nikkei Asian Review 8th Mar 2019
Japanese automakers are moving to extend their iron grip on the Southeast Asian market into electric vehicles, starting with plans to build plug-in and hybrid offerings in Thailand. The Thai government has offered generous tax incentives to automakers producing plug-in hybrids and electrics in the country for applications submitted by the end of 2018. This has led a flurry of companies to flesh out plans. As the region grows wealthier, electrics are turning into a status symbol. Big Japanese names including Toyota Motor and Honda Motor are eager to tap this growing demand in one of their most important markets, while Thailand aims to become a production hub for environmentally friendly vehicles as it did with pickup trucks. Toyota Motor Thailand will begin local production of plug-in hybrids in the coming years, to be followed by EVs, local media report. It already makes conventional hybrids in the country, selling about 13,000 units here in 2018. As its first step into other eco-friendly cars, it will start assembling batteries in Chachoengsao Province this May. Plans are to initially import most of the components and gradually shift to more locally sourced parts.

Financial Services

Thailand Post adds rural finance options Bangkok Post 20th Mar 2019
Thailand Post is seeking to expand financial services through electronic know-your-customer (e-KYC) and self-service kiosks to serve customers in rural areas with no bank branches, competing with 7-Eleven convenience stores. "We have seen a rise in demand for bank services at our 1,200 branches nationwide, serving consumers who may not be able to go to bank branches or whose branches closed because of digital disruption," said Smorn Terdthumpiboon, president of Thailand Post. The company has been expanding banking agent services for deposits since 2011 through six bank partners and in August 2018 expanded its cooperation to four other banks -- Kiatnakin Bank, Kasikornbank, Siam Commercial Bank and Krungthai Bank. Thailand Post has 10 bank partners and is in discussions with Bangkok Bank to partner. Thailand Post expects 700 million baht worth of transactions in the first three months of 2019. Over the period, the number of transactions went from over 10,000 per month to 40,000-50,000 transactions.

No fines for SMEs with single account Bangkok Post 15th Mar 2019
The Revenue Department will waive fines and criminal liability for 40,000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that registered for the single financial account programme but still understated their tax bills to encourage them to pay tax correctly. The 40,000 interested SMEs must show their intention to participate in the fresh scheme by June, said director-general Ekniti Nitithanprapas. The participating businesses will still be subject to unpaid tax bills and will be required to submit tax returns through the electronic filing system for at least one year. Some 400,000 SME operators registered for the single financial account programme, but the Finance Ministry said 40,000 of them still used more than one account to understate income tax bills. Mr Ekniti insisted that the new measure is different from one offered in 2016, when the Revenue Department exempted SMEs from backdated tax payments, as delinquent SME taxpayers are still required to pay unpaid tax.

Derivatives lure Thai investors Bangkok Post 15th Mar 2019
Thai investors have shifted to derivatives products because of sporadic financial market volatility and greater investment knowledge, says KGI Securities Thailand. Lin Chih-Hung, chief operating officer of KGI, said stock markets in Taiwan and Thailand are similar in terms of investor structure, with the majority of trading value coming from individual investors. Retail investors previously accounted for 60-70% of trading in the Thai stock market, but the portion has declined to below 50% over the past couple of years. In Taiwan, trading in the futures market has become more active than in the equity market, as investors prefer short-term trading through futures contracts. This is because they can invest in various derivatives products and can leverage a large profit under any market conditions from a small investment amount. Mr Lin said Thailand's stock market has developed similar trading patterns to the bourse in Taiwan. The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) reports that trading value on the Thailand Futures Exchange (TFEX) is equal to the SET's trading value. The TFEX has taken about 14 years of development, and there is potential for growth in the exchange's trading value to become higher than that of the SET.

SET to kick off digital operations next year Bangkok Post 14th Mar 2019
The Stock Exchange of Thailand plans to commence digital asset trading operations on a new exchange next year, with core infrastructure projected to be completed in the third quarter. SET president Pakorn Peetathawatchai said the bourse will develop a digital asset ecosystem or endto-end platform for digital assets by structuring core infrastructure such as the issuing process, asset tokenisation, trading systems, settlement systems, e-wallet and custody providers. The SET needs to apply for licences to operate all types of services for a digital exchange, and the bourse may join hands with partners experienced in digital asset trade, Mr Pakorn said. Under the royal decree on digital assets that took effect on May 14, 2018, there are four types of secondary business intermediaries: digital exchanges, brokerage firms, dealers and token portal service providers, also known as initial coin offering (ICO) portals. Exchanges, brokers and dealers are required to apply for licences from the Finance Ministry, while ICO portals must be approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

KBank focuses on mortgages Bangkok Post 13th Mar 2019
Kasikornbank (KBank), the country's second largest lender by assets, is focusing on mortgage refinancing as it aims to improve loan quality and tap new customers. The decision comes as Chinese demand for Thai residential property winds down, said KBank president Kattiya Indaravijaya. The bank's growth target of 6% for housing loans is believed to be reachable, while demand for loans was brisk during the first two months of the year as buyers rushed to transfer homes ahead of the Bank of Thailand's new lending curbs taking effect on April 1. Under the central bank's tougher regulations, homebuyers who purchase a residential unit priced lower than 10 million baht and seek a second or subsequent home loan will be required to make a down payment of at least 10% if they have paid for the first mortgage for three years or longer. The minimum down payment requirement will be raised to 20% if borrowers have serviced the first mortgage for less than three years.

TMB new issue shares set at B2.17 Bangkok Post 13th Mar 2019
TMB Bank's newly issued shares to be earmarked for existing shareholders are initially set at 2.17 baht each, but the final price will hinge on the outcome of due diligence. The bank's existing shareholders, including the Finance Ministry, will be allocated one new share for every 15 shares held, said Prasong Poontaneat, the finance permanent secretary. Under the mutual agreement, TMB's existing shareholders will be sold newly issued shares at a lower price than those to be allotted to Thanachart Bank (TBank) shareholders, he said. The 2.17-baht figure is above TMB's closing price of 2.14 baht after it fell 10 satang on Tuesday. TMB recently signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding to consolidate with TBank through an entire business transfer with an estimated transaction value of 130-140 billion baht.

Fitch says merger could tilt positive Bangkok Post 13th Mar 2019
A merger of Thanachart Bank Plc (TBank) and TMB Bank Plc could result in a positive rating action if the merged entity is able to sustain improvements to its domestic franchise and financial strength, according to Fitch Ratings. Downside risks are most likely to arise from the complexities and challenges of integrating the banks' respective operations and cultures. The two mid-sized banks announced that they had signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding for a merger on Feb 27. The transaction is still in its early stages, with only limited information disclosed. Fitch expects to take rating action if the merger plans are executed and when changes in the credit profiles of the two banks become clearer. According to the plan, TBank would transfer its assets and liabilities to TMB at an estimated value of 130 billion-140 billion baht. Some 70% of the value would be financed by equity via TMB's new share issuance, which would be allocated to existing shareholders of TBank and TMB.

Finance Ministry to raise post-merger capital Bangkok Post 12th Mar 2019
The due diligence process for the merger of TMB Bank and Thanachart Bank (TBank) will not be completed during the incumbent government's rule, but the Finance Ministry will still increase its capital to prevent share dilution. Completing the due diligence process will take some time, but there should not be any problems with the planned merger when the new government takes office as it is a straightforward case, said Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong. If the new government decides not to raise capital, it will have to be prepared to explain the share dilution, said Mr Apisak. TMB has entered into a non-binding memorandum of understanding to consolidate with TBank through an entire business transfer with an estimated transaction value of 130-140 billion baht. According to the major shareholder structure of both banks, the Finance Ministry holds a 25.9% stake in TMB, while ING has a 25% stake. Thanachart Capital Plc holds a 51% stake in TBank and Canada's Bank of Nova Scotia owns the remainder.

Food & Agriculture

BAAC preparing drought support Bangkok Post 18th Mar 2019
The state-owned Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) is set to launch a drought relief measure, offering farmers a three-year instalment plan for interest payments. The measure has been prepared in anticipation of lower rainfall this year, bound to hurt farmers' debt-servicing ability, said bank president Apirom Sukprasert. Although the government recently offered to suspend debt principal payments for three years, farmers are still liable for interest. The BAAC is offering a three-year payment period for interest instalments if the predicted drought takes a toll on their income, Mr Apirom said. Last year the cabinet approved two measures to aid farmers. The first was an extension of debt repayments for 3.81 million BAAC borrowers for three years, from Aug 1, 2018 to July 31, 2021. Farmers are required to repay interest at least once a year.

Alternatives for farmers Bangkok Post 15th Mar 2019
Before causing widespread alarm among Bangkok residents this year, PM2.5 fine dust particles plagued the skies in the North, Northeast and Central Plains for over a decade -- and it might be getting worse. At some points on Tuesday, the air quality in Chiang Mai ranked the worst in the world. Many other provinces in the region have also suffered high levels of this microscopic particulate matter (PM), which is harmful to people's health. PM2.5 refers to PM with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres. It can lodge in the lungs and enter blood vessels, leading to respiratory and cardiovascular disease. With motor vehicle emissions a major source of PM2.5 in the capital, the smog in the regions is mainly caused by forest fires and outdoor burning activities on corn and sugarcane plantations. This usually takes place from late January to April. The authorities have focused on giving orders and enforcing laws to deter and punish farmers from open burning, as a swift response to the problem.

Tobacco farmers seek support from political parties against tax hike The Nation 14th Mar 2019
Songkran Pakdeejit, president of the Burley Tobacco Farmers Association of Phetchabun, on Thursday met with representatives from the Democrat Party, Pheu Thai, Bhumjaitahi, Chartthaipattana, and Seri Ruam Thai to discuss the affect of the new tax rate on tobacco farmers. Cigarettes are liable for tax both in terms of volume and value, regardless of price, under the current excise tax structure. The tax based on value is divided into two rates, or 20 per cent of suggested retail price for cigarettes priced below Bt60 per pack and 40 per cent for those priced more than Bt60.  The new structure, which will come into force on October 1, will see tax for cigarette packs priced Bt60 or lower raised to 40 per cent, or the same rate applied to packs priced above Bt60.  That means the retail price for a pack will also increase.  According to the network, it is expected that the retail price per pack will increase by about Bt30 per pack to cover the new tax rate.

‘Cruel marketing in a friendly cloak’: drinks firms taken on by government The Nation 14th Mar 2019
Anti-alcohol advocates, meanwhile, slammed such products as a brazen attempt by alcohol firms to indirectly advertise their brands and seduce new drinkers, especially young people. They found an ally in Dr Nipon Chinanonwet, director of the Disease Control department’s Office of Alcohol Control Committee, who said on Tuesday that brewers could be taking advantage of a legal loophole.  “If it’s advertised as an alcohol-free malt beverage, there’s no problem, but if it’s advertised as an alcohol-free beer, we have to examine the intention and whether the advertising is breaking any law,” he said. The new drinks had been registered as food products under FDA control and can therefore be openly promoted, Nipon said, but the advertising features alcohol brand logos, which is broadly prohibited. Nipon noted that other countries had already sealed the loophole by prohibiting any similarities between logos of alcohol and non-alcohol drinks. Thailand would need to amend its Alcoholic Beverage Control Act 2008 and in the meantime, impose other measures, such as applying FDA regulations on exaggerated advertising, Nipon said.

Partners aim for SWEET rewards The Nation 9th Mar 2019
AIMING to strengthen Thailand’s agriculture industry with the use of technologies to do precision farming, government agencies and the private sector have joined hands to launch a two-year pilot project on 2,000 rai. The precision farming research collaboration involves three parties – the National Science and Technology Development Agency’s (NSTDA) National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec), IBM Thailand and Mitr Phol  The objective is to transform sugarcane farming into precision farming through increasing the yields of one of the country’s most economically important crops. The industrial crop is transformed in Thailand and around the world into sugar and bioenergy. According to a breakdown by country of sugar exports done by the website World’s Top Exports, Thailand plays an important role in the world market as the second largest sugar exporter, with a 9.4-per-cent market share in 2017.

Health & Life Sciences

Air pollution clinics bound for the North Bangkok Post 19th Mar 2019
The Ministry of Public Health will open more air pollution clinics in affected areas, according to Dr Sukhum Kanchanapimai, permanent secretary at the ministry. It currently operates one such clinic at Nopparat Rajathanee Hospital in Bangkok's Min Buri district. More will soon pop up "in regions and provinces with a severe pollution problem", Dr Sukhum said Monday after two weeks of seeing the level of PM2.5 in the North far exceed safe levels. The ministry provided patient statistics for eight provinces in the region. Some 22,000 people were admitted to state health facilities and provincial hospitals in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Phayao, Phrae, Nan, Lamphun and Lampang provinces, according to Dr Kajornsak Kaewjaras from March 3-9, the ministry figures showed. Most were elderly people, children and pregnant women, as well as patients suffering from allergies, the ministry said.

Minding the measles Bangkok Post 19th Mar 2019
Measles is now a serious epidemic. Rubeola, the virus responsible for measles, can sicken nine in 10 people who breathe the air that surrounds an infected person for two hours after one coughs. Despite the availability of the measles vaccine, the disease killed around 136,000 people last year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). "Measles is one of the most easily contagious infectious diseases. The virus is transmitted through the air we breathe. It is even more easily transmittable than the flu," said Dr Lapakorn Chatapat of the Thai Travel Clinic, Hospital for Tropical Diseases, in a previous interview with Life. A global surge has made the situation worse, and Thailand this month made the list of countries with the 10 highest increases in cases between 2017 and 2018. The figures were part of the WHO's analysis of global measles and rubella data collected from 194 countries. Also, the analysis was based on the total confirmed cases of measles. Ukraine made the top of the list followed by the Philippines, Brazil, Yemen, Venezuela, Serbia, Madagascar, Sudan and France. Thailand was No.9.

Protecting children from allergies Bangkok Post 19th Mar 2019
Over the past 15 years, allergy-related diseases have increasingly affected people across Thailand, especially those who in large cities like Bangkok. Allergies have become a major cause of morbidity in children. Allergies are conditions caused by hypersensitivity of the immune system to normally harmless substances in the environment. When a person is allergic to something, the immune system mistakenly believes that this substance is harming the body. Major risk factors for allergies include a family history of allergies and certain factors in the environment. "Allergies can be passed down through genes from parents to their kids. If one of the parents are allergic, a child runs a risk of 30-50% of having the same allergy. If both parents have allergies, their children have a 50-80% likelihood of developing allergies. Some kids can have allergies even if no family member is allergic," explained paediatrician Dr Karl Kalavantavanich. Even though heredity can determine whether your children will have an allergy or not, environmental factors can also be found responsible.

Carcinogenic chemical concerns spur drug recall Bangkok Post 16th Mar 2019
The Food and Drug Administration of Thailand (FDA) yesterday announced the recall of Losartan, a medication mainly used to treat high blood pressure, due to concerns about carcinogenic contamination. Dr Thares Karasnairaviwong, FDA secretary-general, urged patients not to panic as there have not yet been any reports of negative health impacts, and patients can still use this medication produced under a different formula. Berlin Pharmaceutical Industry, a local manufacturer, had informed the FDA of its voluntary recall decision after other countries recalled similar products. The firm is the only manufacturer in Thailand that has imported the problematic chemical from the India-based Hetero Lab Limited. There are 142 batches under two formulas: Lanzaar 50, under licence number 1A 20/53 (NG) and Lanzaar 100, under licence number 1A 3/58 (NG). Patients can return those targeted medicines to hospitals, medical clinics and pharmacies.

Govt bites back in bid to quell rabies Bangkok Post 15th Mar 2019
The government has kicked off a nationwide campaign against rabies, saying it aims to make Thailand free of the deadly viral disease by 2020. During the campaign, which runs until June 30, dog and cat owners are being encouraged to get their pets vaccinated against rabies free of charge at government agency offices near their homes offering the service, Agriculture Minister Grisada Boonrach said on Thursday. He was speaking at an event in Pathum Thani, in which mobile rabies control and prevention units were sent to communities in the province to raise awareness about rabies prevention. The Department of Livestock's anti-rabies teams also will encourage pet owners to register their animals under the department's thairabies.net system and provide information about laws related to rabies control, combating other communicable animal diseases, as well as animal cruelty and welfare. Between March and April last year, 1,121 domestic and stray animals were confirmed as having rabies. Fluid samples were taken from animals suspected of having contracted rabies.

FDA recalls Lanzaar 50 and Lanzaar 100 over cancer fears The Nation 15th Mar 2019
Patients using these medicines are advised to quickly contact their hospital or clinic to get replacements.  FDA secretary general Dr Tares Krassanairawiwong said on Friday that a precursor chemical in many lots of these medicines proved carcinogenic in guinea pigs. “This chemical is manufactured in India,” he said. Tares said only medicine from Berlin Pharmaceutical Industry Company is affected by the recall.  The firm is the only drug manufacturer in Thailand to have imported the problematic chemical from India and used it in manufacturing 142 batches of Lanzaar 50 and Lanzaar 100. The batches being recalled are Lanzaar 50 in 1800670-1800697, 1800839-1800850, 1800927-1800942, 1801034-1801041, 1801135-1801143, 1803285-1803291, and 1803841.

Candidates outline healthcare policies Bangkok Post 15th Mar 2019
Political parties have agreed that doctors should receive adequate legal protection from malpractice lawsuits, a forum was told on Thursday. The Public Health Ministry hosted a forum where parties were invited to showcase their policies on the professional security of medical personnel. It was attended by the Democrat, Bhumjaithai, Seri Ruam Thai and Palang Pracharath parties. Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the Criminal Code should be amended with a specific clause added that would excuse medical professionals providing treatment where patients already face a high risk of dying from legal liability. In malpractice lawsuits, a separate law is needed to cover doctors, nurses and other medical personnel, he said. Some officials engaged in non-essential work at other state agencies should be transferred to the Public Health Ministry to help ease staff shortages, the Democrat leader added. Doctor workloads in state-run facilities could be alleviated by launching health promotion projects to make people healthier so they do not need to go to hospital, according to Mr Abhisit.

Thailand to start testing medical marijuana on patients The Nation 8th Mar 2019
Marijuana has been used as a traditional herb for centuries in Thailand but was banned decades ago. The junta's rubber-stamp parliament voted in December to legalise it for medical purposes. Thailand is the first in Southeast Asia to embrace medical marijuana though recreational use remains illegal. Now state-sanctioned clinical trials testing the impact of cannabis oil on selected patients will be held as early as July, according to Nuntakan Suwanpidokkul, director of research and development at the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO). This handout picture taken on February 25, 2019 and released by Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) of Thailand on March 8, 2019 shows a GPO researcher examining a cannabis plant in an indoor laboratory in Pathum Thani. Extracts or "sublingual drops" will be administered during the tests to volunteers suffering from nausea and pain from chemotherapy, among other ailments. "We will use cannabis plants to extract oil for finished products," Nuntakan told AFP, adding that "we hope to begin in July or August".

ICT

OIC working with firms on data law protections Bangkok Post 20th Mar 2019
The Office of the Insurance Commission (OIC) is working closely with insurance associations and related organisations to prepare for new legislation overseeing personal data protection. Secretary-general Suthipon Thaveechaiyagarn said the OIC is closely monitoring the details of the Personal Data Protection Act, part of which requires businesses to receive customers' consent before disclosing personal information. "We have about one year to prepare before the law becomes effective," Mr Suthipon said. After numerous attempts over nearly two decades, Thailand's Personal Data Protection Act was finally approved and endorsed by the National Legislative Assembly on Feb 28. Drafted to resemble the EU's General Data Protection Regulation, the act will be submitted for royal endorsement and subsequent publication in the Royal Gazette.

Somkid says 5G infrastructure a priority Bangkok Post 19th Mar 2019
Thailand must adopt 5G technology next year to prevent the country from lagging behind Vietnam, Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak warned on Monday after a meeting with state enterprises. "If Thailand wants to see exponential growth, like China, it is vital for the nation to embrace the digital era," he said, adding that the government has made digital development one of its priorities. The commercial sector, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), needs to adopt digital technology to improve their efficiency but many are yet to begin the process, he said. Adopting 5G in Thailand remains in limbo with the three mobile operators -- Advanced Info Service (AIS), Total Access Communication (DTAC) and True Move -- lobbying the government to delay the final payments on their bid fees for the 900-megahertz spectrum auction. Without the postponement, they claim that they will not have enough capital to invest in 5G, which is expected to cost them in excess of 200 billion baht each.

NBTC targets batteries in wearables Bangkok Post 18th Mar 2019
The telecom regulator is considering measures to govern quality standards for batteries in wearable devices and Internet of Things (IoT) items in order to prevent consumer harm. The move is part of ongoing efforts to beef up standards for batteries used in smartphones. On Sunday the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), in collaboration with the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) and Electrical and Electronics Institute (EEI), launched a campaign to educate consumers to look for an industrial standard mark on smartphone boxes with batteries before making purchases. Consumers can also verify quality standards of batteries via mobile app and the NBTC's website. Korkij Danchaivichit, deputy secretary-general of the NBTC, said smart devices are widespread and battery safety is an important issue. In the past few years, there have been several incidents of non-standard batteries that overheated or exploded, causing damage and injury to users.

BSA expects drop in unlicensed software Bangkok Post 14th Mar 2019
The Business Software Alliance (BSA), a non-profit trade group sponsored by Microsoft, expects unlicensed software in Thailand to decline at a faster pace because of the upcoming Cybersecurity Act and Data Protection Act. In 2018, 395 unlicensed cases were reported, valued at over 661 million baht. The previous year there were 245 cases worth 466 million baht. The piracy rate should drop by 3-4% every two years, faster than the normal dip of 1-2%, now that the Cybersecurity Act and Data Protection Act were passed by the National Legislative Assembly, said Tarun Sawney, senior director of the BSA. According to an IDC survey commissioned by the BSA, the piracy rate was 66% in 2017, down from 68% in 2015. The new laws enable businesses to invest in cybersecurity, especially in critical infrastructure and data security that makes companies assess legal/ illegal software. Software asset management of unlicensed software is a front line in the fight against hackers. Illegal software programs also lead to data security breach, which can hurt companies’ reputations.

New data platform to fuel 'smart cities' Bangkok Post 13th Mar 2019
The government is gearing up efforts to capitalise on big data to develop provincial smart cities, according to Deputy Prime Minister Prajin Juntong. A city data platform will be ready within this year, ACM Prajin said, adding it will be an open source to allow developers to harness it for purposes such as creating new facilities and services for local areas. The smart city, the deputy premier said, covers economy, mobility, energy, environment, living, people and governance. According to him, the government wants to modernise the country while maintaining local cultures and protecting the environment. "Smart cities also conform to the government's national strategy of using modern technology to enhance livelihoods and narrow the social gap," ACM Prajin said. The deputy premier stressed cities must be developed by taking into account environmental conservation and effective management of rubbish and wastewater. Efforts must also be made to develop green spaces in cities, ensure good living conditions, make people healthier as well as maintain the environment and local identities, he noted.

30 smart cities targeted to start as first proposal call launches Bangkok Post 12th Mar 2019
The government is gearing up to achieve its target of 30 smart cities in 24 provinces by next year and hopes to transform 100 cities nationwide to smart cities by 2022. The city data platform for smart city implementation is set to launch this year, facilitating the transformation, while at least 100 e-services are expected to be provided to the public by 2022. On Monday the government's National Smart City Committee launched the first call for smart city proposals. The event was chaired by ACM Prajin Juntong, deputy prime minister and chairman of the committee. ACM Prajin said building smart cities nationwide is a government priority, making existing cities smarter with modern design and smart technology. The sectors include smart economy, smart mobility, smart energy, smart living, smart people, smart governance and smart environment. The committee's plan notes 10 zones in seven provinces that have already begun their transformation -- Phuket, Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Bangkok, Chon Buri, Rayong, and Chachoengsao. The government plans to develop another 30 smart city zones in 24 provinces in 2019, building to its target of 100 smart cities in 77 provinces by 2022.

Personal privacy in the balance Bangkok Post 11th Mar 2019
Data is hailed as the new "oil" of the 21st century, with digitalisation changing the landscape across every segment of society and business. When valuable and personal data can be exploited for personal or corporate gain, there is a need to ensure that personal information is well protected from fraud and mischief. After numerous attempts over nearly two decades, Thailand's Personal Data Protection Act was finally approved and endorsed by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) on Feb 28. Drafted in an attempt to mimic the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the act will be submitted for royal endorsement and subsequent publication in the Royal Gazette. While the Thai constitution upholds the right to privacy, the country previously did not have any consolidated law governing data protection in general, according to legal firm Baker McKenzie. There are only specific laws in certain business sectors, such as telecommunications, healthcare, banking and credit reporting. In the past, personal data such as contact details, consumer behaviour and the like were collected and used without the knowledge of data subjects. Such personal data is used to analyse data subjects' behaviour, and later on goods and services will be offered to these data subjects based on the results of such analysis, said Dhiraphol Suwanprateep, partner for technology and intellectual property at Baker McKenzie.

Thailand advised to take advantage of popularity of robots Bangkok Post 8th Mar 2019
Thailand needs to capitalise on the rise of robotics and automation in manufacturing to improve productivity and create new innovate services, in addition to enhancing the human workforce so that employees replaced by automation can find jobs, says an EEC adviser. The robotics cluster in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) targets investment of 300 billion baht in the industry over the next three years. According to the International Federation of Robotics, the growth of the Thai robotics and automation industry this year is expected to 19%, the highest in Asean and fourth highest in the world. Since the Board of Investment (BoI) offered incentives for the robotics cluster, one of 12 industries in the S-curve, Thailand has attracted foreign investment worth 90 billion baht, with several projects applying to the BoI last year, said Djitt Laowattana, a committee member for the robotics cluster and executive adviser for the EEC. The figure remains far below the 150 billion baht in investment targeted for last year, but he believes the number will reach 300 billion in the next three years.

Southeast Asia hastens 5G shift to close development gap Nikkei Asian Review 18th Mar 2019
Southeast Asian nations are scrambling to introduce 5G networks, determined not to fall behind developed nations as the technology is critical to innovations such as autonomous driving and digital medical services. Thailand and Vietnam plan to start 5G services as early as 2020, trailing rich nations by only a year or two. In contrast, they launched 4G services five years after their Western counterparts. The steep costs of 5G infrastructure weigh on telecommunications companies, which are still struggling with heavy spending on 4G technology. This factor may figure in their decisions on whether to exclude cheaper offerings from Chinese company Huawei Technologies, as urged by the U.S. Singapore, which is a regional leader in 5G, said in July that its Singapore Telecommunications had teamed up with Ericsson to test 5G networks. Singtel is also working with Garuda Robotics on drones for security and package delivery. The government plans to use 5G, which offers seamless data transmission, to install about 100,000 smart streetlights equipped with sensors and surveillance cameras. It is also expected to harness the technology for communications involved in automated driving. In Myanmar, where 4G service was fully launched only in 2017, the government aims to shift toward 5G by assigning mobile providers portions of the new spectrum early in the next decade. Health care consultancy Golden Zaneka is exploring telemedicine for rural areas to close the gulf in service with large cities. While most Southeast Asian countries are expected to maintain that course, Vietnam is in a somewhat different position. The Viettel Military Industry and Telecoms Group plans to begin its 5G pilot network this year and aims to develop its own base stations.

Cyber law raises eyebrows Bangkok Post 15th Mar 2019
A cybersecurity bill introduced just weeks ahead of Thailand's first democratic election since a 2014 military coup has stoked concerns it could be used as a weapon to stifle political dissent. Critics say the broad and vague language in the Cyber Security Act -- passed by the National Legislative Assembly on Feb 28 -- may give the military government powers to seize data and electronic equipment without proper legal oversight. The law will come into effect once it is published in the Royal Gazette, the timing of which is unclear.

Infrastructure

Airport rail pact 'needs fine-tuning' Bangkok Post 20th Mar 2019
Contractual negotiations on a high-speed rail project linking three major airports between the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) and a CP-led consortium have become less tense after CP settled for a 50-year contract. Prior to their latest round of talks, rumours were swirling that the consortium wanted the concession almost doubled to 99 years as part of an additional set of 12 proposals for the 220-kilometre project. The SRT committee responsible for selecting the project's concessionaire held talks with the consortium Tuesday to discuss these. The planned line will connect Don Mueang airport in Bangkok with Suvarnabhumi in Samut Prakan and U-tapao in Rayong. The consortium, which offered the lowest bid of 117.2 billion baht, comprises CP, Bangkok Expressway and Metro Plc, China Railway Construction Corporation Ltd, Ch Karnchang Plc, and Italian-Thai Development Plc. With the discussions ongoing, SRT acting governor Worawut Mala issued a reassurance: "We haven't hit a dead end. The talks will carry on."

E-train scheme sped up to counter jams Bangkok Post 19th Mar 2019
The Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA) has been instructed to expedite efforts to construct electric train projects and return road lanes to ease congestion in Bangkok, Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak says. Mr Somkid said the MRTA must explain to the public what the benefits of the projects will be and which areas the routes will pass through. "They must also attach importance to traffic jams during the construction of the projects in the capital," Mr Somkid said. "They were asked to rush through the construction and return areas set aside for the construction as well as quickly withdraw the equipment in the spots where the work is completed in order to ease the burden for people in Bangkok." According to the deputy premier, electric train projects are also needed in major cities in the regions to cope with jams and respond better to public demand.

B417bn bill for water management Bangkok Post 18th Mar 2019
State water management agencies will ask the next government for 417 billion baht to improve water management in the Chao Phraya River basin. "Water management is the key to prevent critical damage from floods and droughts. The country needs these tools to manage problems which will only get worse," Deputy Prime Minister Gen Chatchai Sarikulya told media during a trip to Chai Nat province recently. According to the Royal Irrigation Department (RID), over the next 35 years, the area affected by floods will rise from 1.66 to 4.12 million rai, while droughts will also last longer. Severe floods are likely every seven years. The costs incurred by floods could rise to 150 billion baht per year, up from the current 25 billion baht per year, it warned. "The projects we have in the pipeline are not just flood prevention measures, they also involve building facilities to store water for harvesting which will help farmers during the dry season," Gen Chatchai said.

B79bn highway plan takes heavy flak from residents Bangkok Post 13th Mar 2019
Fifty residents of Ban Lat and Muang district submitted a petition to the Department of Highways on Tuesday against plans to press ahead with a 79-billion-baht motorway project. The move came after department director-general Anon Luangboriboon said at the weekend the project was being proposed to the cabinet for approval, and that he was determined to get the stamp of approval from the current government. The residents, along with a local environment advocacy group calling itself Phetchaburi Environment Conservation Group, said the 119-kilometre Nakhon Pathom-Cha-am (M8) would seriously impact the environment and local communities as well as a major agricultural area that serves as a main source of income for people in Phetchaburi. Latda Phuangtaeng, 57, who lives in tambon Rai Sathon in Ban Lat district, said villagers thought the project had already been scrapped due to vehement opposition by the affected parties. At previous forums organised to gauge public opinion toward the project, affected villagers had vented their opposition to the project and thought their voices had been heard, she said.

Travel & Tourism

Residents demand official review of motorway project Bangkok Post 20th Mar 2019
Residents in five provinces who claim their areas would be affected by the planned construction project of the third Bangkok Western Outer Ring Road on Tuesday submitted an official letter to the Government House complaint centre asking the government to review the project. Chatchai Thesniyom, president of Pruksa Ville 44 in Nakhon Pathom's Sam Phran district, who represented the residents, said the affected residents live in 34 tambons in 10 districts in Samut Sakhon, Nakhon Pathom, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani and Ayutthaya provinces. The new Outer Ring Road has a length of 98 kilometres, starting from Rama II Road in Samut Sakhon to Bang Pa-in district of Ayutthaya. Mr Chatchai said the planned construction would cut through the residents' farming and residential areas, and that he had sought help from the government on Tuesday after finding that the project was set to cross over temples, villages and hospitals in those five provinces.

Tourism Authority of Thailand sees 2.3m for Songkran Bangkok Post 19th Mar 2019
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) expects more than 2.3 million locals and foreign visitors will join Songkran festivals this year, generating some 20 billion baht in revenue for tourism and tourism-related services. TAT governor Yuthasak Supasorn said some 300,000 international arrivals are expected to celebrate the five-day festival starting from April 12, with 2 million locals. The number of visitors has grown from previous years as the government approved an extra holiday on April 12 in addition to the scheduled April 13-16, he said. Mr Yuthasak admitted he was a bit concerned about the poor air quality at provinces in the North, especially Chiang Mai, home to a major Songkran festival in the region. He said he hopes the situation improves soon. Chiang Mai is one of several provinces in the North struggling with haze because of open-air burning of farm waste and rubbish. The heavy smog caused temporary suspension of flights between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, said Mr Yuthasak.

Somkid seeks FEC support for tourism Bangkok Post 15th Mar 2019
Thailand is calling on the International Friendship Exchange Council of Japan (FEC), a powerful non-profit organisation with 1,000 large corporate and individual members, to help promote tourism in Thailand's secondary tourism provinces. Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, who recently met Norio Yamaguchi, chairman of the FEC's Japan-Asean Cultural and Economic Exchange Committee and former chairman of Ajinomoto Co, said the Thai government is willing to support the creation the new air routes linking Thailand's second-tier provinces with Japan. Tourism packages that include Thailand and a second or third neighbouring country should be introduced, said Mr Somkid. "The government has been promoting tourism in 55 second-tier provinces to help generate more income for locals, as they offer high potential to develop the sector, similar to what Japan did for its second-tier prefectures," he said. "It would be helpful if the FEC helps promote tourism in those second-tier provinces of Thailand, while the Thai government pledges to encourage Thai visitors to visit second-tier tourism provinces in Japan."

Court gives Similan Islands green light to limit visitors Bangkok Post 13th Mar 2019
The Similan Islands can limit the number of visitors to prevent environmental damage, the Supreme Administrative Court has said. The court on Monday reversed the order of the Phuket Administrative Court last year, which put the brakes on a plan by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conversation to curb tourism on the islands off the Andaman Coast in Phangnga's Kura Buri district. On Oct 9 last year, the department announced that only 3,325 tourists and 525 divers per day would be allowed to enter the national park, and visitors would not be able to stay overnight without receiving permission. RAdm Niphon Sommoh, who represented tour operators on Similan and Surin islands, petitioned the provincial administrative court to lift the limitation in order to protect their businesses. On Dec 30, the Phuket court issued an injunction against the visitor curbs that ran from Jan 1 to March 31. The department appealed the ruling to the higher court. The red dot shows the location of the Similan Islands. The Supreme Administrative Court's ruling, which was made public on Wednesday, said RAdm Niphon had failed to present a valid argument against curbing the rising number of tourists to the islands.

SRT banks on new dual track lifting passenger numbers Bangkok Post 13th Mar 2019
The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) is banking on the opening of new parallel tracks between Nakhon Ratchasima and Khon Kaen attracting more passengers and lifting revenue. The 187 kilometre dual track between Jira Junction in Muang district of Nakhon Ratchasima and Khon Kaen city was opened on Wednesday. It was marked by the opening of the new Khon Kaen station, the first elevated railway station in the northeastern region, celebrating the completion of construction of the dual track on this sector. Work started in 2016, with total investment of 23 billion baht.  It slashes travelling time between the two cities by more than half -  from three hours to one hour and 20 minutes. It ends delays caused by trains having to wait at stations for another one travelling in the opposition direction to pass on the single track. Freight trains running on this sector of the northeastern line will also benefit, with travel time shortened from six hours to two hours and 30 minutes. "The opening of the dual track service from Jira Junction to Khon Kaen will serve 10 million passengers a year, up from two million at present," SRT deputy governor Worawut Mala predicted at the opening ceremony. Jira Junction is about three kilometres from Nakhon Ratchasima station. It is where the northeastern line splits to Nong Khai via Khon Kaen, with the other line continuing on to Surin and Ubon Ratchathani.(continues below video.

Airport rail decision due on March 19 Bangkok Post 9th Mar 2019
Talks between the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) and Charoen Pokphand Group (CP Group) on March 19 will decide whether the consortium will develop a high-speed rail project linking three major airports, Deputy Transport Minister Pailin Chuchottaworn said. The consortium submitted the lowest bid price for the rail project linking Don Mueang airport in Bangkok with Suvarnabhumi in Samut Prakan and U-tapao in Rayong. Previous talks hit a dead end when the SRT rejected additional proposals raised by the consortium out of the terms of reference (ToR) for the bidding. The rejection came at a meeting on Feb 22 of the SRT's contractor selection committee, which said the proposals went against a cabinet resolution. The SRT reportedly asked CP to come for further talks on Tuesday but the company asked to meet next Wednesday instead, since it needed to hold talks with investment partners. The committee later rescheduled the meeting for March 19. "There will be no postponement of the March 19 talks unless there is some exceptional reason to do so," said Mr Pailin.