Thailand Update: April 3, 2019

Thailand Update | April 3, 2019
Authors: Riley Smith, Ella Duangkaew, David Mineo
 
THE COUNCIL'S TAKE
 
 

Election Commission Announces Unofficial Results with Palang Pracharath Party Winning Popular Vote, Official Results Likely to Be Announced on May 9

On March 24, the Thai electorate gathered for the first time in eight years to cast their votes in the 2019 General Election. On Thursday, March 28, the Election Commission (EC) announced a preliminary vote count to the public, claiming to have accounted for 100% of the votes at 75% voter turnout. The results indicated that the pro-regime Phalang Pracharath Party (PPRP) won the popular vote with 8.4 million votes with the Pheu Thai Party (which has ties to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra) coming in second at 7.9 million. However, the unofficial results do not account for the number of party-list seats that each party won, leaving parties and the electorate in suspense as to the final count. The EC will likely delay releasing official election results until May 9, the latest date allowed by the Constitution, after which the new government will be formed. The delay is intended to prevent interference with the May 4-6 coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn. It will also allow the EC to account for reported voting irregularities, including discrepancies between the number of voters and ballots, reports of vote buying, as well as invalidated absentee ballots from Thai voters in New Zealand.

As Pheu Thai won the greatest number of constituency seats and PPRP won the popular vote, both parties are claiming a mandate to form the new government. Whatever the outcome may be, PPRP and Pheu Thai will need to form coalitions to secure the premiership and form the next government. While it is unlikely that Pheu Thai will secure the 376-seat majority necessary to elect a Prime Minister, any party or coalition that forms the next government is expected to win by a very slight majority. This could potentially lead to a short-lived government that may be characterized by political gridlock and instability, meaning that reform and the passage of legislation is likely to be difficult. This prospect may interfere with the next government’s capacity to assume a leadership role in the region as it prepares to implement the Thailand 4.0 strategy and continue to serve as the 2019 ASEAN Chair. For more information, see our Analytical Update here.

Ministry of Transportation Plans to Transform Thailand into Regional Train Assembly Hub, Upgrade Rail System

On March 28, Deputy Transport Minister Pailin Chuchottaworn announced plans to establish three train assembly plants in Thailand to serve as an export hub to neighboring Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam. The Ministry of Transportation (MOT) is currently engaged in talks with the Ministry of Industry and the Board of Investment (BOI). Deputy Minister Pailin stated that the project would likely begin sometime between 2020 and 2021, and that the plants would be able to manufacture 900 train carriages per year by 2027. MOT plans to open the factories in Thailand’s Northeast—where Thailand produces its local buses—which would create at least 500 new jobs for local residents. Deputy Minister Pailin expects to reduce Thailand’s dependency on train imports from 7,000-10,000 to 3,000 per year and cut procurement costs from 70 billion THB (US$2.2 billion) to 6-7 billion THB (US$189-220 million). The plants would also allow Thailand to cut maintenance costs, which amount to around 1 billion THB (US$31.5 million) per year.

In addition to its plan to transform Thailand into a regional train assembly hub, MOT aims to upgrade and expand Thailand’s rail network to link up with border countries Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar. Deputy Minister Pailin indicated that MOT is planning to introduce high-speed rail routes across the country, 10 electric train routes in Greater Bangkok, and light rail transit (LRT) links in certain areas of Thailand. The construction of the Bang Sue Central Station in Bangkok is part of this plan and is intended to connect Thailand to the rest of ASEAN. Bang Sue Central Station is nearly 71% complete and will replace Hua Lamphong as Bangkok’s rail hub when it opens in 2021.

MOT’s plans to connect Thailand to the rest of the region are just one element of a broader initiative by Thailand to increase connectivity within ASEAN, of which Thailand is the Chair for 2019. The plan will not be without complications, however. As Deputy Minister Pailin noted, establishing train assembly plants will require considerable investment in infrastructure, research and technology acquisition, as well as the development of a new state agency to regulate the rail network. Also, given that Thailand’s neighbors’ rail systems are at different levels of development, especially in terms of modernization, Thailand may need to work with and support neighboring countries as they source investments to update their rail networks.

 
IN THIS UPDATE
 
 
National Affairs
Party-list seats row engulfs EC
Army chief: Maintain constitutional monarchy
Protesters hit city streets
EC calls discrepancies in poll figures 'explainable'
Palang Pracharath has most votes, turnout at 75%
Pro-regime party says it's on verge of forming coalition
Pheu Thai willing to back Anutin, FFP's terms acceptable
Foreign envoys, organisations to observe polls
Abhisit resigns but wishes to join coalition
King's message: Support good people to govern

Customs
Duty-free bid rules panel to wrap soon
12% jump in Thai-China trade eyed
Thai Fruit Exports Jump Under FTA Deals 
AoT urged to split duty-free concessions

Economics
BoT: Politics will not harm GDP growth
March inflation 1.24% yoy
Bank of Thailand upbeat about key growth drivers
Border volume falls in February on strong baht
Baht strengthens despite SET index dip
SET plunges on poll results, US recession fears
Thailand nearing 12th plan goals

Energy
PTT raising R&D funds for disruption
TOP looks into naphtha redirection
PEA joins up with SCB to boost services
Thailand rises three places in  WEF energy transition index 
Energy Regulatory Commission eyes B40bn from solar power projects
PTTEP acquires Malaysia oil firm

Financial Services
Central bank assures any policy tightening will be gradual
Central bank mulls auto loan curbs
Developers want BoT to change LTV limits
SET mulls partners for digital assets
GH Bank keen to cut low-cost rates

Food & Agriculture
High prices, strong baht cause rice export drop
Farm prices increase for first time in 22 months
Extension of fertiliser price cuts on the cards
Govt seeks ways to curb destructive armyworms
Fruit farmers seek help as drought bites

Health & Life Sciences
Private hospitals risk legal action
Northern provinces still shrouded by toxic air
Stroke rates on the rise
Chiang Mai air most polluted
State launches telemedicine in rural areas

ICT
Smart cities development to be given a big push
China's titans push cloud AI
Big trio team up to launch 5G testbeds
Digital transition pushes DNS
E-commerce rivalry intensifies
State project delays hit computer sales
NBTC scraps May date for 700MHz bid
MCOT partners with ETDA to launch WHAM platform

Infrastructure
EEC Office upbeat about megaproject bids
SRT ramps up efforts to lease its land
Upgrades ahead for three islands
City route trams could ease traffic
Somkid: EEC, SEC on track

Manufacturing
FTI ready to present policy
Car makers jittery on post-poll instability
February factory output unexpectedly falls 1.6%

Travel & Tourism
Jet fuel demand rise projected
Train assembly hub of Asean now a coveted title
Operators upbeat on tourism sector
Plan to construct own trains in Northeast gathers steam
Chiang Rai mulls 3-in-1 tourism plan
Bang Sue rail hub work on track, PM told
 
ARTICLE CLIPS
 
 
National Affairs

Party-list seats row engulfs EC Bangkok Post 2nd Apr 2019
Confusion has erupted over the Election Commission's (EC) calculation of party-list seats with several small parties that captured fewer than 71,000 votes to be awarded House seats at the expense of larger parties. Media outlets and academics, looking closely at the method specified in the organic law governing the election of MPs, estimate the value of a House seat at 71,000 votes. This is based on unofficial vote tallies released by the EC last week. However, some smaller parties that captured 30,000-50,000 votes in the March 24 poll claim they will also be awarded House seats based on the EC's calculation. The poll agency has yet to clarify the method it has used to calculate party-list seats. In the latter case, the number of seats to be allocated to large parties such as the Future Forward Party (FFP) would be reduced while smaller parties, which were not expected to have won any seats, are likely to take home at least one seat each.

Army chief: Maintain constitutional monarchy Bangkok Post 2nd Apr 2019
Politicians, lecturers and students must obey the rules and not try to overthrow the constitutional monarchy or the country could suffer another civil war, army chief Apirat Kongsompong said at the 1st Division, King's Guard on Tuesday. "Those who studied democracy abroad and read other countries' textbooks must consider how they should be adapted instead of trying to change the constitutional monarchy. Do not introduce the left-wing policies you learned and try to pretend. Other countries do not do so," Gen Apirat said. "To the students, lecturers and officials who studied abroad, some of whom received scholarships from the palace, I'd like to stress that no matter what kind of democracy you have studied, democracy has been adapted to suit different cultures around the world... In the world of democracy, there are many forms of democracy," the army chief said. He warned that refusal to follow rules would only create problems and some parties should stop dividing Thai people by referring to "democratic" and "dictatorial" camps.

Protesters hit city streets Bangkok Post 1st Apr 2019
Just one week after Thailand's first election in five years, protesters have returned to Bangkok's streets to step up their calls for the removal of the seven election commissioners, accusing them of mishandling last Sunday's election. A group of activists calling themselves "People Who Want Elections" on Sunday set up a desk at a McDonald's outlet at Ratchaprasong for people to sign a petition to remove the commissioners over alleged irregularities in the March 24 general election. The group was led by anti-coup activists including Anurak Jeantawanich, Sudsanguan Suthisorn and Ekachai Hongkangwan. About 100 security personnel were deployed to maintain order. Mr Anurak said that he had obtained permission from Lumpini police to hold the rally and use sound equipment and loudspeakers. However, he claimed that the group were then obstructed by police and their equipment was seized.

EC calls discrepancies in poll figures 'explainable' Bangkok Post 30th Mar 2019
The Election Commission (EC) on Friday insisted the differences in numbers related to the vote results announced on Sunday and Thursday were explainable. The agency on Thursday announced that the total number of eligible voters was 51,239,638 — 34,014 more than the number the EC chairman announced after Sunday's poll. Deputy secretary-general Krit Urwongse said the announced number was what polling officials at each polling unit put into the Rapid Report system on the day they retrieved the ballot cards and equipment. On that day, officials at some units could not put their numbers into the system. Meanwhile, the number of used ballots announced on Thursday was 4.5 million more than Sunday's number because the Sunday report came from Rapid Report based on 93% of the vote count. Thursday's announcement was based on 100% of the data and also included 2.3 million votes from advance polls as well as more than 100,000 ballots from foreign countries. Mr Krit insisted the vote-counting process at the polling units and announcement at each unit could also be used to verify the numbers.

Palang Pracharath has most votes, turnout at 75% Bangkok Post 28th Mar 2019
With 100% of ballots counted, the Palang Pracharath Party has won the popular vote, with 8.4 million compared to 7.9 million for Pheu Thai, on a turnout of 75%, the Election Commission announced on Thursday. The EC released the total number of votes for each party at 3pm, a day earlier than previously announced. According to the EC, the statistics were from a 100% vote count, but have not been endorsed yet. The data showed increases of around 500,000 votes for both PPRP and Pheu Thai from the data at a 94% count, which stood at 7.9 million and 7.4 million respectively,   According to the EC, 38.3 million people voted on Sunday, up from 33 million in earlier reports. The figure translated into a turnout of 74.69%. Of the 38.3 million ballots, 36.5 million (92.8%) were valid. Vote-no ballots totalled 605,392, or 1.6%.    A total of 186 complaints were filed as of Thursday, it said. The data showed only the votes accrued to all 81 parties, totalling 35.5 million. The 10 parties with the most votes are: Palang Pracharath (8.43 million), Pheu Thai (7.92 million), Future Forward (6.26 million), Democrat (3.95 million), Bhumjaithai (3.73 million), Thai Liberal 826,517, Chartthaipattana (782,030), New Economics (485,660), Prachachat (485,436) and Puea Chat (419,388).

Pro-regime party says it's on verge of forming coalition Bangkok Post 26th Mar 2019
Palang Pracharath Party's secretary-general Sontirat Sontijirawong on Tuesday insisted it would gather enough House seats to form a coalition government and would definitely nominate Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha as the next prime minister. "Everything is in progress and I am confident that (MPs') votes will be gathered soon. Now let the talks continue first... The party resolved that its leader and secretary-general should conduct the talks and we are working on it. I admit that talks are being coordinated with other political parties," he said. In response to the Pheu Thai Party's argument that the party with the most constituency MPs deserved the right to form a coalition government, Mr Sontirat said the constitution valued all votes cast, and thus the legitimacy to form a government rested with the total popular vote. "The Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) is different from other parties because it has representatives from all regions including Bangkok, while some party doesn't," he said.

Pheu Thai willing to back Anutin, FFP's terms acceptable Bangkok Post 26th Mar 2019
Pheu Thai was willing to support Anutin Charnvirakul, leader of the Bhumjaithai, as prime minister of a coalition government, party secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai said on Tuesday. He also showed a willingness to work with Future Forward, saying that party's conditions for joining a coalition were "acceptable". Mr Phumtham was responding to reporters' questions. Asked if the party had offered the prime ministership to Mr Anutin, he said Pheu Thai neither clung to any positions nor had any conditions. The Pheu Thai secretary-general said the party wanted only that the country should move ahead and to improve the people's well-being, as pledged during its campaign. To form a coalition government, two factors must be taken into consideration -- getting the support of 251 House votes, and getting the 376 votes needed to propose the prime minister. The government would not be stable if either of the two factors were not met, Mr Phumtham said.

Foreign envoys, organisations to observe polls Bangkok Post 24th Mar 2019
The polls on Sunday will be observed by foreign delegates and members of international organisations, although the European Union says it is not fielding an Election Observation Mission (EOM) as it was not given enough time to prepare. Election commissioner Loetwirot Kowatthana said on Saturday representatives from 11 countries and International IDEA, a democracy advocacy group, attended a forum to familiarise themselves with the election before they began their observations. Sunday's polls will also be open for longer than in previous elections; polling stations will be open between 8am and 5pm, while in the past they closed at 3pm. Voter turnout is expected to exceed 80%. Many polling stations are expected to be busy today after the advance voting saw 82% of registered voters casting their ballots last week. It was reported that the foreign observers will be split into two groups: one invited by the Election Commission (EC) and another which requested observation access from the EC.

Abhisit resigns but wishes to join coalition Bangkok Post 24th Mar 2019
Abhisit Vejjajiva on late Sunday night resigned as the leader of the Democrat Party to show responsibility for the electoral failure of his party but announced its wish to join a government coalition. Mr Abhisit told a brief press conference at the Democrat headquarters at about 9.50pm that it was clear that polling results were different from his targets for House seats' rankings and numbers of his party and he apologised for his failure to present the concepts of his party to pave the way for its success in the election. "I apologise to the fellows who share ideals, both former MPs and newcomers, for their failure to enter the House. I must take responsibility. Therefore, I resign as the party leader from now on," Mr Abhisit said. Yet apparently airing his wish for the Democrat Party to join the next government, Mr Abhisit said remaining directors of the party's board would assume acting roles and discuss with Democrat MPs on the formation of the next government.

King's message: Support good people to govern Bangkok Post 23rd Mar 2019
His Majesty the King had the Lord Chamberlain deliver a part of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's message 30 years ago urging the promotion of good people to govern so they can prevent bad people from creating trouble. The Royal Household Bureau announced on Saturday night that His Majesty the King assigned the Lord Chamberlain to convey King Bhumibol Adulyadej's message on the opening of the 6th National Jamboree at the Vajiravudh International Scout Camp in Si Racha district of Chon Buri province on Dec 11, 1989. The excerpt reads in terms of public administration, there are both good and bad people in the country. "No one could make everyone good. Maintaining national peace and order is therefore not about making everyone good; it's about supporting good people so they can govern and prevent bad people from grabbing power and creating trouble and unrest." According to the announcement on Friday, His Majesty the King hopes all citizens and government officials, including civil servants, the military and the police who are duty-bound to ensure national security and people's happiness, to consider the royal message. His Majesty the King is concerned about national security and the feelings and happiness of citizens. The reference to the royal message is aimed at giving moral support and encouraging the performance of duties for the sake of unity, national security and people's happiness. It is also a reminder of the great contributions of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Her Majesty the Queen of King Rama IX, the announcement read.

Customs

Duty-free bid rules panel to wrap soon Bangkok Post 3rd Apr 2019
A panel to consider whether the bidding for the duty-free concession falls under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Act is expected to present its findings within two weeks, Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak said. The panel, set up on Friday and chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, will also look into whether the auction for non-duty-free commercial operations at Suvarnabhumi, Phuket, Hat Yai and Chiang Mai airports comes under the newly amended PPP Act. Mr Somkid said the panel had been briefed to act swiftly so that Airports of Thailand (AoT) has enough time to follow the PPP process if necessary. "Don't worry about the auction. AoT can comply with the PPP Act because the bidding process only began on March 29," he said. The new PPP law, which came into effect on March 10, requires the chairmen of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Thai Industries and the Thai Bankers' Association to be included as members of the PPP committee. It also requires the regulations and mechanisms relating to the bidding process to be made more concise, transparent and inclusive.

12% jump in Thai-China trade eyed The Nation 1st Apr 2019
Doubledigit trade growth with China Ministry pushes agricultural exports from Thai SMEs via competition The Commerce Ministry aims to increase bilateral trade with China by 12 per cent this year, focusing on boosting the exports of Thai agricultural products.  “Despite the ongoing US-China trade war, Thai exports to China have been growing continuously since 2018,” said Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general of the Department of Trade Negotiations (DTN) under the Commerce Ministry, at a seminar entitled “Opportunities to Penetrate the Chinese Market with an FTA” last Friday. The event was jointly organised by the Commerce Ministry and the Panyapiwat Institute of Management.  China is currently Thailand’s biggest trading partner. In 2018, trade value with China stood at US$80.136 billion, increasing by 8.7 per cent year on year. “We aim to boost Thai-Chinese trade by 12 per cent this year and have set a target of $140 billion for 2021”, she said.

Thai Fruit Exports Jump Under FTA Deals  The Nation 29th Mar 2019
Thailand exports $2.65 billion worth of fruits last year, a 17.05 per cent increase for the previous year, driven by the country's free trade agreements (FTA) with Asean, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Chili, and Hong Kong, according to Auramon Supthaweethum, director general of Trade Negotiations Department under the Commerce Ministry. She added that Asean and China are the main markets for Thai fruits, acounting for $2.13 billion or about 80 per cent of the total value of Thai fruit export last year, The top three export items are durian, Longan, and mangosteen.

AoT urged to split duty-free concessions Bangkok Post 21st Mar 2019
A group of Thai retailers has threatened to team up with leading foreign duty-free shop operators to protest against the Airports of Thailand's (AoT) controversial terms of reference (ToR) for the duty-free shop concession, which appear to encourage unfair competition. Worawoot Ounjai, Thai Retailers Association (TRA)'s president, said on Wednesday the recent announcement by the AoT to merge permits for duty-free operations in four airports into a single concession as "monopolistic". The association also repeated its call for the embattled AoT to revise its ToR to ensure fairness and transparency in the process. The association recommends the AoT split the concessions based on product categories, and split the operations into three different concessions -- one for Suvarnabhumi airport, one for Phuket airport, and another for both Chiang Mai and Hat Yai airports. The association also urged the bidding process to be thoroughly evaluated, with equal weight placed on technical complexity, as well as financial returns.

Economics

BoT: Politics will not harm GDP growth Bangkok Post 2nd Apr 2019
Domestic politics are not anticipated to affect the country's economic growth this year because the two main political parties vying to form a coalition government have similar economic policies, says the Bank of Thailand. Although the two leading parties have opposing political views, especially regarding amending the 2017 constitution, their economic policies are not significantly different, said central bank governor Veerathai Santiprabhob. Both parties are focused on Thailand's infrastructure investment projects, with the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) legislation already in place, said Mr Veerathai. The EEC is the military-led government's flagship investment scheme, spanning the eastern provinces of Chon Buri, Rayong and Chachoengsao, in a bid to create a hub of technological manufacturing and services connected to Asean by land, sea and air. On Feb 8, 2018, the National Legislative Assembly passed the EEC Act.

March inflation 1.24% yoy Bangkok Post 1st Apr 2019
The consumer price index was measured at 102.37 in March, up 0.41% month-on-month and 1.24% year-on-year, on rising prices of fresh foods and fuel, the Commerce Ministry announced. Pimchanok Vornkorporn, director-general of the ministry's Trade Policy and Strategy Office, said on Monday the CPI index rose for the third consecutive month this year. Fresh food prices increased for the fifth consecutive month and fuel prices went up for the first time in four months. In March prices of foods and non-alcoholic beverages rose 2.38% year-on-year whole rice, flour and flour-based products increased by 4.58%, meat by 4.70%, eggs and dairy products 0.81%, and vegetables and fruits 2.77%. Prices of non-food and non-beverage products rose by 0.58%. "Inflation in March resulted mainly from rising prices of fresh vegetables due to drought. They soared 9.54%... Their prices are likely to go up further and there could be an insufficient supply," Ms Pimchanok said. Fuel prices rose 2.27% year-on-year and were likely to continue to increase in the future, she said. The Commerce Ministry maintained its inflation projection for this year at 0.7-1.7%, she said.

Bank of Thailand upbeat about key growth drivers Bangkok Post 30th Mar 2019
Although the private sector is increasingly concerned that the murky election result could stall economic momentum, the Bank of Thailand remains optimistic that domestic investment and consumption -- two drivers of economic growth -- are resilient. The current government still has full authority, so politics should not dent growth, said Don Nakornthab, senior director of the economic and policy department at the central bank. State investment in megaprojects such as the Eastern Economic Corridor will remain uninterrupted given the functional government, he said. Domestic investment and consumption remained solid in the first two months this year and their outlooks are bright, Mr Don said. In February, private consumption indicators across categories continued to expand from a year earlier, he said. Purchasing power remains in good shape, thanks to improving farm and non-farm income, in line with the higher consumer confidence index. Private investment fell slightly in February from a year before, mainly due to the continued decrease in permitted construction area, but investment in machinery and equipment continued to expand.

Border volume falls in February on strong baht Bangkok Post 27th Mar 2019
Thailand's border trade fell in February, attributed to a strong baht and higher competition from Chinese goods. The Commerce Ministry's Foreign Trade Department on Tuesday reported overall cross-border trade, including transit trade, shrank by 2.47% year-on-year in February to 83.8 billion baht. Transit trade consists of businesses connected with the passage of goods through more than one country. Exports from Thailand tallied 48.4 billion baht, down 3.77% from February 2018. Imports contracted by 0.63% to 35.3 billion baht, resulting in a trade surplus of 13.1 billion. Adul Chotinisakorn, director-general of the department, said a strong baht and weakening currencies in neighbouring countries, especially Myanmar, impaired performance in February. More Chinese products were also imported by Asean countries. In the first two months this year, Thailand's border and transit trade value still managed to edge up by 0.92% from the same period last year to 219.5 billion baht. Exports from Thailand made up for 121 billion baht, down by 1.94% from the same period last year, while imports grew 4.69% to 98.2 billion baht, resulting in a surplus of 23.1 billion.

Baht strengthens despite SET index dip Bangkok Post 26th Mar 2019
The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) index on Monday fell over concerns of a political gridlock following Sunday's general election, but the baht's value strengthened as investors offloaded their US dollar holdings. Thailand's benchmark index closed at 1,625.91 points, down 20.38 points or 1.24%, in turnover worth 47 billion baht. A dip in Thailand's stock market followed a broader equity sell-off seen across Asia, with Japan's Nikkei 225 index dropping the most by 3%. Late on Monday afternoon, the Election Commission (EC) announced so far Pheu Thai Party's unofficial tally of constituency seats stood at 137, compared with the Palang Pracharath Party's (PPRP) 97. Pheu Thai needs help from other parties to garner the 251 votes for the right to nominate the prime minister -- who is then subject to a vote from the 500 MPs together with the 250 senators. EC secretary-general Ittiporn Boonprakong said official results from at least 95% of the House of Representatives' seats will not be finalised until May 9.

SET plunges on poll results, US recession fears Bangkok Post 25th Mar 2019
Thai shares shed 20.38 points as the country awaits the final results of the country's first election since the 2014 coup, while other Southeast Asian stock markets ended lower on Monday. Cautious investors across the globe opted for safe-haven bonds as risk assets were rattled by fears of an impending US recession. Concerns about the health of the world economy heightened last week after remarks by the US Federal Reserve, sending the 10-year treasury yields to the lowest since early 2018. Meanwhile, data showed preliminary measures of manufacturing and services activity in the United States grew at a slower pace this month than in February, and dampened sentiment further. Traditionally, an inverted yield curve -- where long-term rates slip below short-term -- has signalled a recession in the offing. Asian shares followed the broader global equities sell-off, with MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan dropping 1.5% to a one-week trough.

Thailand nearing 12th plan goals Bangkok Post 22nd Mar 2019
Thailand is nearing the goals set in the 12th national economic and social development plan (2018-2022). The state planning unit, the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC), reported on Thursday the economy grew by an average of 4.1% in the first two years of the five-year national plan, which aims for an average of 5% a year. Thosaporn Sirisamphand, secretary-general of the NESDC, said in the first two years economic growth outstripped the same period in the 10th and 11th national plans, which grew by an average of 3% and 3.5%, respectively. The 12th plan commenced on Oct 1, 2017. Mr Thosaporn said the country succeeded in maintaining economic stability for the first two years, with public debt standing at 41.9% of GDP in 2018, far below the 55% of the government's fiscal and monetary framework the plan aims for by its completion in 2022. The average inflation rate was 0.9%, close to the target set by the Bank of Thailand, while agricultural production grew by an average of 4.4%, higher than the 3% target and improving from a contraction of 0.9% in the 11th plan, he said.

Energy

PTT raising R&D funds for disruption Bangkok Post 29th Mar 2019
SET-listed PTT Plc, the national oil and gas conglomerate, plans to increase its budget for R&D activities from 1% of annual net profit to 3% by 2021. President and chief executive Chansin Treenuchagron said 1% of PTT's net profit has been allocated to R&D for the past two decades, but the results have not been exploited for commercial purposes. The company is changing its R&D direction to cope with disruptive technology in the energy sector. "The higher budget means PTT is keen on efficient spending for future R&D projects, and we expect the research to be used commercially," he said. Before promotion to the top position at PTT, Mr Chansin was former chief technology and engineering officer in 2017. He set the direction for R&D activities in that capacity. Most of the projects the last two decades focused on finding cleaner fuels; more efficient lubricants; gasohol E10, E20 and E85; biodiesel B3, B5, B7 and B10; and other raw materials to make fuels such as algae and biofuel. "Renewable energy technology is fast approaching, as power is already generated from renewable resources, with energy storage the latest trend," said Mr Chansin.

TOP looks into naphtha redirection Bangkok Post 26th Mar 2019
SET-listed Thai Oil Plc (TOP), Thailand's biggest oil refiner by capacity, is considering adding value to petroleum naphtha, made at its Clean Fuel Project (CFP), after witnessing stiff market sentiment for naphtha makers across Asia. President and chief executive Atikom Terbsiri said the CFP is projected to have capacity of 1 million tonnes of petroleum naphtha per year, but the naphtha market remains murky at the global level. "TOP plans to make value-added petroleum naphtha, moving away from the production of commodity-grade naphtha," he said. "TOP is considering either developing it by itself or forming a joint venture with other PTT companies." Petroleum naphtha is a hydrocarbon liquid stream, derived from refining crude oil to be a raw material for general plastics. It is added to engineering plastic. Mr Atikom said this plan will be considered alongside the CFP, which is being constructed and developed, with TOP hoping to conclude the plan by 2019.

PEA joins up with SCB to boost services The Nation 26th Mar 2019
In a bid to enter the digital ecosystem, the Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA) is collaborating with Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) to develop PEA Energy Intelligence, a fully integrated digital service to help manage business and household utility needs. Aiming to unlock the PEA Hero Platform’s potential to boost energy consumption standards, the new service will analyse existing electricity systems, from procuring and certifying suppliers to installing equipment to boost the efficiency of power consumption, PEA deputy governor Khammarat Sartpreecha said yesterday. SCB’s Wasin Saiyawan said the bank was ready to seamlessly accommodate funding needs for all groups listed in the platform, ranging from large corporations and industrial estates to business operators and households. The bank hopes that offering a full range of convenient services on the platform will help reduce the cost of energy, boost efficiency of energy management and sustain overall energy consumption. 

Thailand rises three places in  WEF energy transition index  The Nation 26th Mar 2019
Siri said that this year, Thailand was preparing to push legal amendments and get rid of obstacles to attain a higher WEF rank. Thailand was ranked 54th last year. The improvement in ranking is a result of the WEF view that Thailand has energy stability without emitting too much greenhouse gas, he said, pointing out that Thailand has earned compliments for more use of renewable energy as the country’s main energy. Thailand has a plan to increase the use of renewable energy to 35 per cent of total energy used in the next 20 years from the current 14 per cent, Siri said. Besides, the country is moving towards power production from solar rooftops on residential units, the so-called people-sector solar power for the first time. Meanwhile, Thailand needs more development of energy human resources, particularly the 10,000-watt people-sector solar policy in the next 20 years and the future use of electric vehicles (EVs).  “Such ranking is based on Thailand’s Power Development Plan [PDP]. If PDP 2018 is included, it is believed the ranking would be higher, with its drive for clean energy, particularly people-sector solar,” Siri said.

Energy Regulatory Commission eyes B40bn from solar power projects Bangkok Post 21st Mar 2019
The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) expects to create new investment value of 40 billion baht from its new 10,000-megawatt solar power projects for households from 2019-2028. The country's power regulator on Wednesday launched the solar photovoltaic (PV) scheme for local household rooftops with a pilot capacity of 100MW. The state grid plans to buy the electricity from solar rooftops, offering a feed-in tariff of 1.68 baht per kilowatt-hour (unit) for 10-year contracts. Two state-run agencies, the Provincial Electricity Authority and the Metropolitan Electricity Authority, will buy output of 70MW and 30MW, respectively. Energy Minister Siri Jirapongphan said households intending to participate in the scheme can register with the ERC in May. "The ERC expects to grant the solar rooftop licences in June," said Mr Siri.

PTTEP acquires Malaysia oil firm Bangkok Post 21st Mar 2019
PTT Exploration and Production Plc on Thursday acquired Murphy Oil Corp in Malaysia in a deal worth $2.12 billion (67.25 billion baht) to strengthen its long-term growth in Southeast Asia. The deal, made through its subsidiary, PTTEP HK Offshore Ltd, includes five petroleum exploration and production projects in Sabah and Sarawak states of the neighbouring country. “The acquisition is highly significant to PTTEP’s growth in both the short and long term, strengthening our business in alignment with the strategic plan," PTTEP president and chief executive officer Phongsthorn Thavisin said. "We expect that it will boost up net sales volume around 48,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day immediately.”

Financial Services

Central bank assures any policy tightening will be gradual Bangkok Post 3rd Apr 2019
Thailand's central bank kept its policy rate on hold last month due to heightened uncertainties and maintained its view that any policy tightening would be gradual and dependent on the economy's performance, its meeting minutes showed on Wednesday. The Bank of Thailand's (BoT) monetary policy committee voted on March 20 by 7-0 to hold the one-day repurchase rate unchanged at 1.75% for a second straight meeting. The central bank raised the rate for the first time in more than seven years in December to help curb financial risks, and have stated that its rates remain comparatively low against regional peers. Thailand's downgraded 2019 economic growth forecast, low inflation, political uncertainties and trade war disruptions have reduced the chances of a rate hike this year. The MPC will next review monetary policy on May 8. According to the minutes, the committee would need to wait and assess the clarity of various factors due to heightened global economic and domestic uncertainties.

Central bank mulls auto loan curbs Bangkok Post 2nd Apr 2019
The Bank of Thailand could implement new measures to supervise auto loans in a bid to control the country's elevated household debt. If the central bank's examination team finds auto lenders are using relaxed loan criteria, it could adopt new measures to control the loan quality of this business segment, said governor Veerathai Santiprabhob. The central bank began the examination after finding several marketing campaigns displaying eased criteria for auto loan approvals, especially cashback and top-up loan incentives. Somchai Lertlarpwasin, senior director of the financial institutions strategy department, said the central bank's examination of auto loans is expected to be completed by June after beginning in the first quarter. Auto loans rose 12.6% year-on-year last year, up from 8.4% in 2017, according to central bank data. Non-performing loans in the auto segment increased to 1.66% year-on-year in 2018, up from 1.6% logged in the previous year.

Developers want BoT to change LTV limits Bangkok Post 1st Apr 2019
The Bank of Thailand is being urged to revise the new loan-to-value (LTV) limits that are set to come into force on Monday for those buying second and subsequent residential properties, as market sentiment is weak and the limits may prevent those who really want to buy homes from owning their own homes. Atip Bijanonda, president of the Housing Business Association, said the property market this year will register growth in a range of 0-5% from 2018, mainly because of the new LTV limits. "The LTV limits will definitely have a strong impact on the market this year, as they already affected housing sales in the first quarter," Mr Atip said. "The central bank should review their effect because it could reverberate in the overall economy." In the low-rise housing segment (single detached houses and townhouses), developers will build more off-plan units because homebuyers are given a longer period to make down payments. Mr Atip said the new LTV limits will not give homebuyers time to make a higher down payment, as many are buying second homes to expand their family or relocate closer to workplaces or schools.

SET mulls partners for digital assets Bangkok Post 28th Mar 2019
The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) is open to joining with local and foreign partners to build up the digital asset ecosystem, with a focus on developing three asset-backed digital tokens in the initial stage. Under a plan to launch the digital asset exchange next year, the bourse will emphasise the development of three asset-backed digital tokens in the initial phase, said SET executive vice-president Kitti Sutthiatthasil. The asset-backed securities for digital tokens can be categorised into existing securities, shares listed on foreign stock exchanges and R&D projects of major companies. "The SET will also support development ideas for the digital tokens, so companies and startups who have ideas can discuss them with the bourse," Mr Kitti said. "[The bourse and startups] will study together for the process of project development of digital tokens." Jirayut Srupsrisopa, co-founder and chief executive of Bitkub Capital Group Holdings, said the SET was open to discussion when the company asked whether the bourse was interested in a partnership. 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.

GH Bank keen to cut low-cost rates Bangkok Post 21st Mar 2019
State-owned GH Bank wants to slash the mortgage rate for the 1-million-unit low-cost government housing scheme to below 3% and lengthen the maximum housing loan term to 50 years from 40 years. The changes are aimed at reducing the repayment liability for borrowers of the cheap home loan scheme to below the programme's minimum monthly payment requirement of 3,800 baht, said president Chatchai Sirilai. If the bank's upcoming issuance of savings lotteries worth 100 billion baht has an average cost of 1.7-1.8% per year, GH Bank can offer interest rates below 3% for mortgages to accommodate the scheme, he said. The three-year savings lotteries will be divided into three batches of 30 billion baht, 20 billion and 50 billion, with the first lot expected to be launched in September. Mr Chatchai said 30% of the 59,000 applicants for the scheme's first mortgage phase cannot afford the minimum payment of 3,800 baht a month. They have repayment ability in a range of 2,800-3,000 baht a month, he said.

Food & Agriculture

High prices, strong baht cause rice export drop Bangkok Post 30th Mar 2019
Thai rice exports declined in both volume and value in February, with blame falling on high prices relative to competitors, notably Vietnam, as well as the strong baht. Charoen Laothammatas, president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, said on Friday that outbound rice shipments totalled 687,560 tonnes in February, down 27.7% from the same month of last year, with exports worth 11.69 billion baht, down 23.5% year-on-year. "Shipments of all grains fell from January," Mr Charoen said. "White rice, in particular, saw shipments drop by 40.7% from January to 326,029 tonnes, with shipments of parboiled rice falling 13.8% to 194,902 tonnes." Exports of Thai premium hom mali jasmine rice fell by 6.2% in February from a month earlier to 99,147 tonnes. According to Mr Charoen, Vietnam's rice prices were US$40-50 a tonne lower than Thai grains and lured buyers from the Philippines and Malaysia. As of March 27, white rice 5% was quoted at $411 a tonne, while similar grains from Vietnam were at $358-362 per tonne and those from India and Pakistan were $373-377 and $350-354 per tonne, respectively.

Farm prices increase for first time in 22 months Bangkok Post 28th Mar 2019
The farm price index rose for the first time in 22 months in February, largely because of an increase in paddy price and a smaller decline in rubber prices, says the Fiscal Policy Office (FPO). The agricultural product price index increased 0.7% year-on-year in February, the first rise since April 2017 when the index gained 2.4%, said Warotai Kosolpisitkul, a policy adviser to the FPO. Rice and rubber prices have a combined weighting of 40% in the index. Apart from rice and rubber, prices of other farm products including tapioca and fruit also improved last month, he said. Even though the Thai economy has been growing at its potential of around 4-5%, the farming sector has not benefited from the growth because of soft farm prices. Mr Warotai said the Thai economy last month remained stable, despite the dismal export figures, because of higher farm prices and improving consumption and investment. In February, commercial pickup sales, a proxy for private investment, soared 9%, with one-tonne pickups jumping 10.1%, while property-related tax rose 7.4%.

Extension of fertiliser price cuts on the cards Bangkok Post 28th Mar 2019
The government is prepared to ask fertiliser makers to extend price cuts through June or August after persuading them to lower prices from March 7 to the end of May. Chutima Bunyapraphasara, the acting commerce minister, said that if raw material costs stay unchanged, the government will ask manufacturers to extend the fertiliser price cuts until June or August, the period when rice farming begins. Manufacturers have agreed since March 7 to cut prices of chemical and organic fertilisers by 30-50 baht per 50kg pack until the end of May, in a concerted effort to reduce farmers' production costs. "This is such good news for farmers, as we [at the ministry] have succeeded in convincing the manufacturers to cut the prices of the finished chemical and organic fertilisers to farmers as dictated by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak," Ms Chutima said. The price of finished chemical fertiliser used in rice farming was cut by 30 baht per pack for the 46-0-0 formula, by 40 baht for the 16-20-0 and 16-8-8 formulas and by 50 baht for the 16-16-8 formula. The price of chemical fertiliser used for other crops, such as the 15-15-15 formula, was cut by 30 baht.

Govt seeks ways to curb destructive armyworms Bangkok Post 24th Mar 2019
The spread of fall armyworms in corn fields across the country has prompted authorities to seek measures to minimise economic damage to the agricultural sector. The nocturnal worms can survive on corn crops. They have adapted to the weather conditions in the country, according to the United Nations of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). "We are seeing an invasive pest literally sweep across the Asian continent," said Kundhavi Kadiresan, Assistant Director-General, FAO regional office for Asia Pacific. "Let's be clear that the fall armyworm is a pest that threatens our food security, our economies, domestic and international trade, and of course the smallholder farmers who wake up one morning to a cash crop under attack," Mr Kadiresan said. The fall armyworms, a long-time American pest, are munching their way around the globe. The insect is now spreading to Asia through Yemen and South Asia, China and Thailand. According to the FAO, the worms are native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas.

Fruit farmers seek help as drought bites Bangkok Post 21st Mar 2019
Hundreds of fruit farmers in Trat rallied outside the provincial hall on Wednesday to pressure authorities into speeding up efforts to solve water shortages. The farmers, from several tambons in Khao Saming district, said their orchards have been hit hard by drought and a poor harvest was likely if no action was taken to alleviate the problem. They also demanded to meet the provincial governor to voice their plight in person. The rally coincided with a meeting among provincial officials chaired by Trat deputy governor Supamit Chinsri to discuss drought relief measures for Muang, Bo Rai, and Khao Saming districts. Sa-ard Bussayapinit, from tambon Sator in Khao Saming district, said time was running out for fruit farmers there to save their crops. Mr Supamit was met with boos and jeers when he appeared and tried to talk to the protesters. Khao Saming district chief Pirawat Wangratkul, meanwhile, tried unsuccessfully to persuade the farmers to disperse.

Health & Life Sciences

Private hospitals risk legal action Bangkok Post 1st Apr 2019
The government has threatened to take legal action against private hospitals that refuse to provide production cost information for their medicines and medical services. According to Whichai Phochanakij, director-general of the Internal Trade Department, the working group tasked with studying the production cost of medicines and medical services asked all private hospitals to supply information on such production costs on Jan 31, but only half complied. "We would like to emphasise that by April 4, all private hospitals, regardless of size, must submit the data to the working group or they will face penalties according to the 1999 Prices of Goods and Services Act," Mr Whichai said. According to the act, those who refuse to supply information to the regulator violate Section 18 and are subject to up to three months in jail, a fine of up to 5,000 baht or both. The working panel will use information available to evaluate the appropriate production costs of medicines, medical supplies and medical services, while considering whether prices charged by private hospitals are exaggerated.

Northern provinces still shrouded by toxic air Bangkok Post 31st Mar 2019
Chiang Mai city and at least nine other locations in northern Thailand were plagued by toxic dust particles on Sunday as authorities were spraying water to ease the situation. The Air Quality Index on Sunday afternoon showed poor air quality in parts of Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son, Lamphun, Lampang, Phayao, Chiang Rai and Nan. All -- including the city of Chiang Mai -- were in the red zone, meaning PM2.5 readings were above the acceptable standard of 50 microgrammes per cubic metre.  The worst air quality was in Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai, where the index was at 467, far beyond the 'unhealthy' threshhold of 200. PM2.5 in Mae Sai hit a level of 353 at 9am, according to latest figures released by the Pollution Control Department. Chaiyaphol Thitisak, the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department director-general, ordered trucks to spray water in hopes of reducing the heavy smog. People in the hardest-hit locations were advised to wear masks. Weerachai Chaimongkol, the kamnan of tambon Pah Dad in Muang district of Chiang Mai, urged the government to step in to tackle the problem as it was beyond the scope of provincial authorities.

Stroke rates on the rise Bangkok Post 25th Mar 2019
With about 50,000 people dying from stroke each year, the disease is becoming a leading cause of death among Thais, according to the Royal College of Physicians. Dr Nijasri Charnnarong, director of the Royal College of Physicians, said that from the estimated 250,000 new cases of strokes recorded in Thailand each year, about 50,000 patients lose their lives while around 30% of patients become paralysed. While strokes can be fatal, death can usually be prevented if patients are well-aware of the symptoms that precede an attack and how to deal with it -- which can be summarised by the acronym “FAST”, he said in an annual report on Thailand’s public health released recently. According to Dr Nijasri, the “F” in FAST stands for facial twitching, while the “A” refers to arm weakness. Meanwhile, “S” stands for slurred speech, while the “T” refers to the critical timing of action once the other symptoms have manifested, he said.

Chiang Mai air most polluted Bangkok Post 24th Mar 2019
The PM2.5 levels were found to be high and hazardous to health in nine northern provinces on Saturday, with Chiang Mai the hardest hit, Pollution Control Department director-general Pralong Damrongthai said on Sunday. Mr Pralong said PM2.5 levels in these provinces ranged from 90-241 microgrammes per cubic metre of air in the 24 hours to 9am Sunday, surpassing the rated safe treshold of 50 μg/m³. In Chiang Mai, PM2.5 readings were 241 μg/m³ at tambon Chang Phuak, the highest in the country, 221 μg/m³ at tambon Si Phum, 132 μg/m³ at tambon Suthep and 134 μg/m³ at tambon Chang Khoeng, all in  Muang district. In Chiang Rai, the levels of PM2.5 pollutants were 215 μg/m³ at tambon Wiang Phang Kham in Mae Sai district, and 126 μg/m³ at tambon Wiang in  Muang district. The PM2.5 levels in Lampang were 186 μg/m³ at tambon Phra Bat of Muang district, 107 μg/m³ at tambon Sop Pat in Mae Moh district, and 194 μg/m³ at tambon Ban Dong in Mae Moh district.

State launches telemedicine in rural areas Bangkok Post 21st Mar 2019
The government on Wednesday began development of its telemedicine programme at 32 hospitals in rural areas in eight provinces, encouraging adoption of new technologies and remote medical care. The programme, a joint effort of the Public Health Ministry and the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), is a vital part of addressing concerns over rising medical costs and deficient healthcare access in rural areas. Under the telemedicine concept, community hospitals or primary medicine clusters can serve patients in remote areas more efficiently in the event they need a quick consultation for simple ailments. Additionally, telemedicine is expected to reduce expenses for both patients and state-run hospitals by a combined 38 billion baht annually after full implementation within four years. NBTC secretary-general Takorn Tantasith said the regulator has budgeted 180 million baht to purchase and install digital equipment for telemedicine in the pioneer phase. The budget is part of the NBTC's five-year funding for the operation of hospitals. The broadband internet infrastructure required to operate telemedicine will run through the NBTC's USO (universal service obligation) Net. The USO Net infrastructure will cover 3,920 remote villages nationwide or 600,000 households by June 2019.

ICT

Smart cities development to be given a big push The Nation 3rd Apr 2019
The Digital Economy Promotion Agency (DEPA) aims to set up smart cities to cover 77 provinces within the next five years. The agency next year will set up 13 smart cities in the provinces and will join business partners to showcase smart city solutions. Passakorn Prathombuts, DEPA’s senior executive vice president, said the agency aims to develop smart cities to cover 77 provinces in the next five years in order to improve the quality of life and boost the country’s competitiveness. The agency aims to play the role of a facilitator to support both the private and public sectors in helping the development of smart cities.  The agency, under the City Dara platform, will collect unstructured and structured information such as traffic data, CCTV, WiFi access and transportation to create a mega-data market place of the cities.  In the next step, the agency plans to develop various solutions for smart city development, including smart environment, smart mobility, smart people, smart governance, smart energy, smart living and smart economy.

China's titans push cloud AI Bangkok Post 3rd Apr 2019
Chinese tech giants are flocking to invest in Thailand's growing cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI) services sector, worth an estimated US$157 million (4.98 billion baht) this year. The major players on the scene are Tencent, which has partnered with True IDC to implement local cloud computing services; Huawei, which also offers local cloud; and Alibaba, which offers cloud services with data stored outside Thailand. Experts are pushing the new government to enact regulation to keep Thailand's data stored locally in a bid to attract more investment in the country. Cloud service providers say post-election instability could impact investment in technology and inhibit companies' digital transformation. Chang Foo, chief operating officer of Tencent Thailand, said the company chose to open its cloud-based service centre in Thailand as its first in Southeast Asia out of 25 global locations because Tencent has operated in Thailand for over a decade.

Big trio team up to launch 5G testbeds Bangkok Post 2nd Apr 2019
Total Access Communication (DTAC) joined hands with TOT Plc and CAT Telecom on Monday to launch 5G testbeds at Chulalongkorn University and the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) under a public-private partnership (PPP) model. The tests, scheduled to begin operations in July, will include both lab and live testing of 5G use cases at the two sites, focusing on smart farming, smart cities and environmental uses. Third-ranked mobile operator DTAC is urging the government to develop a spectrum roadmap comprising high-, mid- and low-band spectrum with a clear allocation timeline for driving 5G adoption before launching commercial services. "Collaboration is the key to success and a critical milestone in the roll-out of 5G in Thailand," said Alexandra Reich, chief executive of DTAC. She said 5G technology needs much more collaboration from vertical industries through co-investing and co-innovation.

Digital transition pushes DNS Bangkok Post 2nd Apr 2019
Rapid growth of Internet of Things (IoT) and digital transformation are driving demand for security and faster network service through the Domain Name System (DNS), says a global DNS provider. "With the advent of the Thailand 4.0 policy, we have found nine out of 10 businesses plan to undergo digital transformation to ensure customers have a great experience online," said Michelle Zatlyn, co-founder of Cloudflare, a US-based DNS service provider. Cloudflare helps businesses improve their online presence and expand their global presence while reducing cyber-risks. The company uses globally distributed networks to offer faster and more secure servers. Ms Zatlyn said more everyday appliances are going online, with smartphones becoming most people's main device. Businesses have to make sure they work fast and are protected from cyber-risks. Businesses in Asia are adopting multi-cloud service providers, which Cloudflare can help manage to safely conduct business in different markets.

E-commerce rivalry intensifies Bangkok Post 1st Apr 2019
Competition is ramping up in Thailand's nascent e-commerce industry, with larger players fighting to attract lucrative brand deals and local partnerships. "Thailand's e-commerce segment will continue to have intense competition for at least another five years, reducing the number of major players from 3-4 to only two," said Pawoot Pongvitayapanu, founder of Tarad.com, which is 51% owned by TSpace Digital, the digital arm of TCC Group. "This fierce competition will lower prices and in turn kill off small sellers and dealers upcountry." While Thailand's e-commerce sector is relatively small at about 3% of the total retail market, Thai e-commerce is expected to grow to US$13 billion by 2025 from $3 billion in 2018, according to a Google Temasek study. In 2019, JD Central, Shopee and Lazada will continue their intense competition, while more brands are becoming available online. The three platforms all have strong financial support from larger firms. Lazada is backed by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, while Shopee is supported by Tencent, another massive Chinese company. JD Central is a joint venture of China's JD.com and Thailand's Central Group.

State project delays hit computer sales Bangkok Post 29th Mar 2019
Rising political uncertainty is expected to affect Thailand's computer market this year, causing it to contract by single digits, down to 2.2 million units in sales, because of a delay in state projects, say leading IT analysts. Consumers will still drive growth, especially for gaming computers and ultra-slim notebooks. "If the new government postpones bidding on projects, the local personal computer [PC] market comprising desktops and notebooks will contract 1% in 2019 as public agencies are reluctant to purchase new computers. We will start to see an impact in the third quarter," said Peerapat Samarnmit, market analyst for IDC Thailand, a global technology research firm. The overall PC market in 2018 recorded sales of 2.3 million units, but this year the projection is for 2.2 million units, of which 68% will come from consumers and 32% corporations and the government, said IDC Thailand. The only growth segment is consumer spending as there is strong demand for tailor-made gaming desktops (build-your-own PCs) and gaming notebooks. PC makers offer more affordable gaming devices that attract a wider audience, gaining from the popularity of e-sports.

NBTC scraps May date for 700MHz bid Bangkok Post 27th Mar 2019
The 700-megahertz licence auction will not take place in May as originally planned by the telecom regulator, as significant details of the auction terms have yet to emerge. The regulator said bidders need time to prepare capital and bidding guarantees. "The soonest timeline for the auction date may be August or September," said Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission. The NBTC insists that the planned auction of 700MHz licences is unaffected by the unsettled situation of the next government. As an independent agency, the NBTC is proceeding with 5G auction procedures under its responsibility, regardless of politics, Mr Takorn said. The drafts for the planned 700MHz auction were approved and public hearings held before the general election. Mr Takorn said the draft for 700MHz spectrum recall, the compensation regime and auction conditions is expected to go into effect in April. Related conditions of the 700MHz auction, including reserve price for the range, will be finished by May, he said.

MCOT partners with ETDA to launch WHAM platform Bangkok Post 25th Mar 2019
State-owned broadcaster MCOT, in partnership with the Electronic Transactions Development Agency (ETDA), will launch WHAM, a platform to promote digital content e-commerce, aiming to spur media innovation and protect intellectual property rights. The ETDA will support development of the digital platform while MCOT will be responsible for developing and managing digital content, as well as arranging activities on the platform to promote content creation. WHAM is scheduled to launch in September this year. On Friday, MCOT's president and ETDA's chief executive signed a three-year memorandum of understanding (MoU) to develop WHAM. MCOT president Kematat Paladesh said the broadcaster owns a variety of content on traditional media, but the company needs to partner with a practical carrier to drive and develop content into value-added channels. MCOT operates two digital TV channels, five radio frequency ranges for FM and two AM frequency ranges. MCOT has 62 radio stations nationwide.

Infrastructure

EEC Office upbeat about megaproject bids Bangkok Post 3rd Apr 2019
Although post-election sentiment among foreign investors remains unstable, the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) Office is confident it can finish all the auctions of five infrastructure projects by the end of April. The five projects consist of a high-speed railway linking three airports (225 billion baht); U-tapao aviation city (290 billion); a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) centre (10.6 billion); the third phase of Laem Chabang seaport (114 billion); and the third phase of Map Ta Phut seaport (55.4 billion). Kanit Sangsubhan, the office's secretary-general, said the winning bidders of all five projects will be decided within April before being proposed to the EEC Policy Committee and the cabinet for their approval. "The winning companies and consortiums can sign contracts for the projects before the new administration takes charge," Mr Kanit said. "The office is confident that all five projects will not face financial problems because Thailand will get financial support from Japan and China."

SRT ramps up efforts to lease its land Bangkok Post 31st Mar 2019
The debt-ridden State Railway of Thailand (SRT) is ramping up efforts to lease its three prime land plots in Bangkok to be used for a 400 billion-baht commercial development project in a bid to bolster revenues. The three plots are a site near Mae Nam railway station in Klong Toey district, projected to require 200 billion baht of investment; a plot in Makkasan, expected to need a 100-billion-baht investment; and the Bang Sue Central Station, also predicted to require at least 100 billion baht in investment. The lease concessions are set to last for 50 years. The Joint State and Private Investment Act, which came into force on March 10, opens the door for the SRT to lease its land to private developers instead of relying on Public-Private Partnership (PPP) deals, said SRT acting governor Worawut Mala. The move would allow the SRT to call for an open bid for land leases without having to undergo an evaluation process with the PPP committee, the State Enterprise Policy Office and the cabinet. The scheme only needs to be approved by the SRT's board and the Transport Ministry. Under the scheme, private developers must shoulder the business risks by themselves and set aside a portion of revenue for the SRT under the varying rates, according to the earning potential of each area, Mr Worawut said.

Upgrades ahead for three islands Bangkok Post 29th Mar 2019
The government has set its sights on upgrading and promoting three islands in and near the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) to become spots for quality tourism. The three islands in the Gulf of Thailand are Koh Si Chang in Chon Buri, Koh Samet in Rayong and Koh Chang in Trat. Kanit Sangsubhan, secretary-general of the EEC Office, said the agency will conduct public hearings to upgrade and promote the islands. "The government also wants to develop the three islands into smart cities, with a better environment and facilities," he said. "The three islands will be designated in the future to become tourist destinations for human resources who work in the EEC and general visitors." Koh Si Chang has potential for quality tourism given its royal connections: King Mongkut (Rama IV) visited several times on his steamship, and King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) built a summer palace on the island. Koh Samet is a marine national park, but it's also a popular tourist spot among Thai and foreign visitors.

City route trams could ease traffic Bangkok Post 27th Mar 2019
The President of the Thai Association for Town Planning has proposed two tram routes to accommodate commuters having to travel through the heavily congested Ratchaprasong area. Thapana Bunyapravit said the Ratchaprasong and Pathumwan business areas suffer from heavy traffic due to a lack of proper city planning and a feeder system to connect the busy local BTS stations, subway and the Airport Rail link. Accordingly, a tram system, as implemented in other big cities, could be a solution, he said, adding that trams are used in many countries to link major locations, such as shopping malls, hotels, schools, universities, economic districts and embassies. The first route would start at Ratchaprasong, pass along Ratchadamri Road, Rama IV Road, Sarasin Road and terminate in Ratchaprarop close to the Airport Rail Link's Ratchaprarop station. This 15km Yellow Line would cost 5-6 billion baht, Mr Thapana said. The second route, would also begin in Ratchaprasong and run along Ratchadamri Road but would then turn right onto Rama IV Road and right again onto Phaya Thai Road.

Somkid: EEC, SEC on track Bangkok Post 25th Mar 2019
The current government's major investment projects, particularly in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) and Southern Economic Corridor (SEC), are expected to be taken up by the new government, says Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak. "I'm not fretting over the economy because the government has already laid the foundation for significant policies and the next government is expected to continue these projects because they are good and can drive the Thai economy," he said. Mr Somkid said that for the remaining two months before a new government is installed, the incumbent administration will speed up infrastructure development and construction in three areas: the EEC, the SEC and Northeast Economic Corridor, and the bioeconomy project. Both the EEC and SEC are part of the government's strategy to move the economy towards high technology. The EEC, spanning Chachoengsao, Chon Buri and Rayong, will be home to 12 targeted S-curve industries: cars; smart electronics; affluent, medical and wellness tourism; agriculture and biotechnology; food; robotics for industry; logistics and aviation; biofuels and biochemicals; digital; medical services; defence; and education development.

Manufacturing

FTI ready to present policy Bangkok Post 1st Apr 2019
The Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) plans to meet with the next government as soon as possible to submit a final draft of its white paper calling for support policies for businesses and the industrial sector. "The FTI expects a stable situation post-election, with new MPs forming a coalition government very soon to mobilise the country," said chairman Supant Mongkolsuthree. The industrial sector should be supported because it represents up to 70% of GDP, making it the prime economic engine, he said. The white paper was presented on March 18 to five parties before the general election. The group proposed many development issues, including rules related to ease of doing business and establishment of related funds, centres and programmes for farmers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The white paper has been revised regarding four key industries: smart agriculture, quality of life improvement, networking and connecting, and service sharing.

Car makers jittery on post-poll instability Bangkok Post 27th Mar 2019
Car makers are voicing concerns over potential post-election instability and wage increases that could challenge Thailand's automotive market, despite this year's healthy sales projections. Chanchai Trakarnudomsuk, president of Mazda Sales Thailand, said investors and companies are concerned about the post-election period and whether MP candidates can form a new coalition government. "One possibility is a new government gathering roughly 250-260 MPs, which is not enough to pass many important policies and projects with a roughly equal number of opposition MPs," he said. "Business operators are concerned about what will happen politically after the election." But Mr Chanchai said the local car market in 2019 is projected to perform well, with many car companies riding potential post-election momentum. Toshiaki Maekawa, president of Tri Petch Isuzu Sales, said post-election sales would return to normal, with the local market reaching 1.05 million units sold in 2019. "The general election is a good sign for the country, while the existing government could administrate the country to carry on and mobilise the business, investment and consumption sectors," he said.

February factory output unexpectedly falls 1.6% Bangkok Post 26th Mar 2019
Thailand's manufacturing production index (MPI) in February unexpectedly dropped 1.6% from a year earlier, led by lower production of steel, computers and rubber products, the Industry Ministry said on Tuesday. That compares with a forecast rise of 0.52% in a Reuters poll, and against January's 0.18% increase. Capacity utilisation was at 69% in February, down from January's 70.49%. The ministry has forecast the MPI will increase between 2% and 3% this year, after 2018's 2.8% rise. 

Travel & Tourism

Jet fuel demand rise projected Bangkok Post 2nd Apr 2019
SET-listed Bangkok Aviation Fuel Services (BAFS) has increased its revenue projection for 2019 to grow by 10% thanks to an expansion in jet fuel demand and a new oil pipeline. The previous target was 6% growth. Managing director Prakobkiat Ninnad said the tourism sector is an economic engine for Thailand, so jet fuel demand will continue from air traffic for both inbound and outbound flights. This year tourist arrivals are projected to grow by 8%, in part because of government policies to stimulate the sector, he said. "Typically tourist arrival growth is in the single digits annually as Thailand's international airports have limited capacity to serve flights," said Mr Prakobkiat. "Airports of Thailand has upgraded air traffic management, leading jet fuel demand to grow by double digits."

Train assembly hub of Asean now a coveted title Bangkok Post 29th Mar 2019
The Transport Ministry has set out an ambitious plan to turn Thailand into the train assembly hub of Asean. Deputy Transport Minister Pailin Chuchottaworn said the ministry is in the process of holding talks with relevant agencies to support the setting up of a train assembly plant. He was speaking at the Rail Asia 2019 Expo event at the State Railway of Thailand's Makkasan Airport Rail Link Expo Halls in Bangkok on Thursday. The plant, he said, would also supply trains to CLMV countries -- Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. The project is likely to get off ground between 2020 and 2021, he said. It is possible that three electric train plants will be established, which would be able to produce 900 carriages a year by 2027, Mr Pailin said. This should also help to reduce the cost of importing trains 10-fold from the current level of 70 billion baht, he added. The project would also help to reduce maintenance costs by 1 billion baht a year and create at least 500 jobs, he said.

Operators upbeat on tourism sector Bangkok Post 29th Mar 2019
Operators have a more optimistic outlook for this year's tourism sector, with over 40 million international arrivals anticipated despite a slowdown in the first quarter and unclear election results. The strong baht and global economic doldrums slowed growth in international arrivals during the first quarter of this year, estimated at 10.9 million, a 2.9% rise year-on-year, said Chairat Trirattanajarasporn, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand. Mr Chairat said uncertainty given the results of the March 24 poll will create a political vacuum that will affect tourism in the second quarter. "We have called for the Election Commission to speed up the counting of votes and to announce the outcome to avoid any ambiguity," he said. Any delay in the post-election process could disrupt private investors making outlays in the country, Mr Chairat said. For the second quarter, the council estimates international arrivals of 9.28 million, a 4.6% rise from the same period last year, mainly from East Asia (4.03 million, up 3.1%), Asean countries (2.66 million, up 4.3%) and Europe (1.15 million, up 3.6%).

Plan to construct own trains in Northeast gathers steam Bangkok Post 27th Mar 2019
The Transport Ministry is planning to set up train assembly plants in the Northeast to ease Thailand's heavy dependence on train imports in a move to slash government spending on new rolling stock 10-fold. If the ambitious plan is realised, the cost of procuring new trains, which is currently estimated around 70 billion baht, will fall to between 6 and 7 billion baht, Deputy Transport Minister Pailin Chuchottaworn said on Tuesday. The Transport Ministry is working with the Industry Ministry and the Board of Investment to kick start the plan next year. The government expects to build three plants with a yearly production volume of 900 carriages by 2027, Mr Pailin said. Under the plan, the plants must be able to build more than 300 carriages a year in order to break even, he said. Officials are attracted to the northeastern region because it is currently a centre for local public bus production. If new factories are built and opened there, "we can also export trains to CLMV", Mr Pailin said, referring to the four neighbouring countries of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Chiang Rai mulls 3-in-1 tourism plan Bangkok Post 22nd Mar 2019
The Provincial Hall is proposing to develop a new scheme that would allow tourists to visit three countries in one day, as a part of its bid to develop the province into the region's main tourism hub. The governor of Chiang Rai, Prajon Prachsakul, said he is seeking the cooperation of interested stakeholders from both the private and public sectors in Laos and Myanmar to help develop the strategy. The plan was revealed to about 120 participants of a senior justice process administrator course hosted by the Judicial Training Institute for the Office of the Judiciary, who were about to go on a study trip to learn about the province's strategic development plan. Mr Prajon said tourists will be able to start their journey from Chiang Rai's Chiang Khong district and move on to Laos' Huay Xai, Luang Namtha and Bokeo provinces via the R3A highway, before entering Myanmar's Keng Tung and Tachileik provinces via the R3B highway. From Myanmar, tourists can then return through those routes to re-enter Thailand in Chiang Rai's Mae Sai district. "We want to develop this strategy because once the scheme is up and running, tourists can see three destinations in one go -- which we hope will exceed their expectations for a one-day trip," he said.

Bang Sue rail hub work on track, PM told Bangkok Post 21st Mar 2019
Construction of Bang Sue Central Station, which will replace Hua Lamphong as the city's rail transport hub when it opens in 2021, is almost 71% complete. A progress report was given to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha who on Wednesdaypaid a visit to the 264,000-square-metre site. He was accompanied by Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith, transport permanent secretary Chaiwat Thongkumkoon, and acting State Railway of Thailand (SRT) governor Worawut Mala. He said the government has done its best to push for the development of a comprehensive modern rail network to upgrade public transport. Bang Sue Central Station will not only serve as the country's main rail hub, but will also connect the country's rail system to the rest of Asean. "This government has sped up development of the rail system. The electric mass transit projects, the high-speed train project and the central station are all the government's work," he said.