Thailand Update: April 17, 2019

Thailand Update | April 17, 2019
Authors: Riley Smith, Ella Duangkaew, David Mineo
 
THE COUNCIL'S TAKE
 
 

Thailand Steams Ahead with Local and Country-Wide Rail Developments to Meet Connectivity Goals

On April 15, the Government of Thailand established the Rail Department—an agency under the Ministry of Transportation (MOT)—following an endorsement from King Maha Vajiralongkorn in the Royal Gazette. According to Nathporn Chatusripitak, a spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, the Rail Department “is tasked with proposing rail-related policy, strategy and development plans for the complete rail network, not only at home but also connectivity with neighboring countries.” The new agency will also serve as a regulator for rail networks as Thailand implements ambitious rail projects throughout the country.

The creation of the Rail Department indicates the high level of priority the government accords rail infrastructure development in Thailand and beyond. This has resulted in a number of plans to initiate and advance new contracts to upgrade Thailand’s rail infrastructure. These include:

  • Plans to establish three train assembly plants in Thailand’s Northeast to serve as an export hub to Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam;
  • Plans to open a rail route linking Aranyaprathet district of Sa Kaeo province to Cambodia’s Poi Pet, Sisophon, and Battambang, to facilitate more efficient travel and logistics between the Thai-Cambodian border;
  • Plans to build a new bridge to serve as the border checkpoint between the two countries worth around 4.19 billion THB (US$132 million);
  • Plans to develop the commuter rail network, particularly in the Greater Bangkok area, to reduce traffic congestion and promote greater connectivity with surrounding provinces;
  • Consideration of three mass transit investment projects proposed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) worth a total of 100 billion THB (US$3.15 billion); and
  • The pursuit of measures to relieve traffic congestion by expediting the development of existing mass transit networks.

Thailand’s push to advance and finalize rail projects as it explores and initiates new contracts indicates the importance the government places on upgrading its rail infrastructure. Modernization of the country’s rail and transportation infrastructure is central to the current administration’s Thailand 4.0 economic vision, which envisions greater economic growth through more efficient connectivity and transport of both people and goods. This is particularly the case as the incumbent government prepares to lay a foundation for its successor to expand upon. More information will be shared in a forthcoming Infrastructure Analytical Update.

National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission Drops Plan to Impose Surcharge on OTT Services

On April 10, Secretary-General of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), Takorn Tantasith, announced that Thailand will not impose a surcharge on over-the-top (OTT) service providers. According to the Bangkok Post, Secretary-General Takorn planned to submit a motion in favor of the surcharge during the August ASEAN Telecommunications and Information Technology Senior Officials and ASEAN Telecommunications Regulators Council (TELSOM-ATRC) 2nd Leaders’ Retreat Meeting in Bangkok. The surcharge would have forced service providers that exceed a certain threshold of OTT bandwidth to pay a usage fee to international internet gateway (IIG) operators. It is unclear what the specified threshold was, though Secretary-General Takorn confirmed that it was based on traffic volume and was a progressive rate system. Smaller OTTs would have been exempt from the surcharge.

Secretary-General Takorn notes that the surcharge was intended to ensure fairness toward telecom operators responsible for creating the network infrastructure and would have provided an alternative to stricter regulatory frameworks advanced by certain ASEAN members that submit OTT providers to registration and taxation. Nevertheless, Secretary-General Takorn admits the plan was not well received by the public, who labeled the plan impractical and believed the surcharge would not only impose additional costs to consumers but also interfere with the growth and development of Thailand’s digital economy.

It is reassuring that the government of Thailand is considering industry and public feedback as it develops a regulatory framework to govern its digital economy. The Council in particular was pleased to submit comments on the last proposed OTT regulations in 2017, which led to the regulations being brough back to the table (see here for more information). Adopting industry best practices that do not undermine innovation will be critical for the region as Thailand leads ASEAN digital integration in its role as Chair for 2019.

 
IN THIS UPDATE
 
 
Regional Affairs
Regime seeks neighbours' help on smog
Asean on course for national single window

National Affairs
EC grapples with hundreds of post-poll complaints
Election Commission ready to face the music, says chairman
EC method 'won't affect' official results
Dems split as group urges PPRP tie-up

Customs
Decision soon on PPP duty-free issue
 Customs: clearance times speeding up
Apisak: RCEP deal likely this year

Defense & Security
Forging ties with Hun Sen's son
Thai, US navies kick off anti-submarine exercise

Economics
Seek new markets, Thai exporters told 
SET hypes Well-Being Index
Govt Mulls Stimulus to Help Boost Growth 
Slow 2019 start for private investment
BoT considers expansion of local currency settlement
Somkid orders local-level stimulus

Energy
Peak power demand forecast to increase
IEAT eyes single bidder for Map Ta Phut port megaproject
B10 roll-out planned for May
Most trucks tipped to be B20-compliant
100 plants mulled for solar waste
Household LPG subsidies to continue to July
PTT, Gulf team up on EEC ports
Biomass, biogas group cries foul over PDP

Financial Services
Appraisals lower than market price
Low-rated bonds all the rage in Q1
BOT joins Asean peers in rush for payments scheme
Risky loans by cooperatives a concern
NVDR aids foreign interest
Authorities focus on cash transactions
MTL: Premium growth limited by industry changes

Food & Agriculture
Meeting with lenders on high-value trees
'Agri-map' aims to fix farms' supply inefficiencies
Govt urged to help farmers shift practices
Agency monitoring food prices

Health & Life Sciences
Deadline to register medical marijuana May 19, FDA chief says
New approach urged to protect the elderly
Careful plans lead to success with office tech in healthcare 
Price limits pressure hospitals
Thailand in worst 14 for TB
Healthcare workforce crisis looming
Cabinet okays Bt148m to prevent outbreak of African swine flu
Haze causes thousands to fall ill in North
Most private hospitals overcharging

ICT
Keeping up with cybercrimes
Digital TV channels to unplug
Prayut extends fee payments for mobile operators
NBTC flees from OTT surcharge plan
Telecom firms fret over cable
IIG operators slam NBTC initiative
NBTC vouches for 5G to revive economy with technology
Firms urge soft loans for robotics adoption

Infrastructure
SRT eyes new city river icon
Access to capital hampers smart city creation in the region
Lofty projects grind to a halt
Rail Department established after royal endorsement
PM wields Article 44 for rail progress
Nod to Dam Project from Bangkok to Ayudhaya
Govt mulls city transit splurge

Travel & Tourism
Extension sought for second-tier perk
Cabinet approves new Suvarnabhumi airport runway
Thailand to unveil Asean tourism push
Airports brace for Songkran surge
Cashless bus fares off to good start
Khon Kaen airport to add flights during Songkran
TAT's Myanmar fair attracts companies
Ministry plans new rail route to Cambodia
 
ARTICLE CLIPS
 
 
Regional Affairs

Regime seeks neighbours' help on smog Bangkok Post 10th Apr 2019
The government has sought cooperation from Myanmar and Laos to help mitigate haze, which is wreaking havoc in the North, according to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. Speaking after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Gen Prayut said the bush fires and haze in the northern provinces have diminished, though the situation also depends on neighbouring countries. "I yesterday wrote to Laos and Myanmar asking them to help us tackle these problems," said Gen Prayut. He said Thai officials on the ground are also working with their Myanmar counterparts to deal with the issue, including sharing equipment to douse fires. Gen Prayut also called on firefighters to be cautious about combatting bush fires. In the areas where fires are raging, they should consider making buffer zones to defend wildlife, he noted. "As for those who start the fires, they must face prosecution as they violated the law," said Gen Prayut.

Asean on course for national single window Bangkok Post 5th Apr 2019
The 10 Asean member states plan to adopt the national single window system this year to facilitate regional customs payment and reduce trade barriers, says the Finance Ministry's Fiscal Policy Office (FPO). Building up connectivity among Asean countries is being discussed by senior Asean officials, with the national single window used for imports and exports, said FPO director Lavaron Sangsnit on the sidelines of the 23rd Asean Finance Ministers' Meeting in Chiang Rai province. The national single window will facilitate faster custom clearance procedures, which currently go through several organisations, said Mr Lavaron. The combined value of Thailand's imports and exports in Asean accounts for 25% of total shipments, higher than exports to Japan, Europe and the US, said the FPO. Although eliminating trade barriers among Asean countries will take time, it is expected that trade procedures will be enhanced threefold once such barriers are reduced, said Mr Lavaron.

National Affairs

EC grapples with hundreds of post-poll complaints Bangkok Post 14th Apr 2019
The Election Commission (EC) has received more than 300 complaints in connection with prospective winners in 66 constituencies. The commission said it would try to ensure election re-runs do not clash with the King's coronation rite next month. EC chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong said the total number of complaints was 326. These complaints were lodged since March 24. Under election law, the public has one month to file complaints. But the EC needs to investigate the complaints first. The probe will focus on whether to issue "orange cards" to prospective winners, Mr Ittiporn said. Orange cards have been added to the EC's existing yellow- and red-card penalties. An orange card will see the election rights of a winning candidate suspended for a year if evidence is found they were involved in fraud.

Election Commission ready to face the music, says chairman Bangkok Post 14th Apr 2019
The Election Commission (EC) is ready to defend itself against multiple legal challenges over its performance in the recent poll, as well as face an impeachment process, EC chairman Ittiporn Boonprakong said on Sunday. Mr Ittiporn was referring to a petition for the Office of the Ombudsman to seek a Constitutional Court ruling nullifying the March 24 election, a petition for the National Anti-Corruption Commission to impeach the seven members of the EC and a threat to file a court case against the EC for malfeasance under Section 157 of the Criminal Code. He said the petitioners had exercised their rights to challenge the EC if they believed the agency had made serious mistakes. "We are ready to respond to every question. The decisions rest with the relevant agencies," the EC chairman added. Mr Ittiporn said the EC respects every opinion. "I previously said we need to show courage in performing our duties. Now, I am speaking about our courage being put to the test. I insist that we have performed our duties with honesty," he added. He said the EC had received an investigation report on the late arrival of some 1,500 ballot papers from New Zealand, too late to be included in the count.

EC method 'won't affect' official results Bangkok Post 13th Apr 2019
The Election Commission's decision to seek a Constitutional Court ruling on its method of calculating and allocating party-list seats will not affect the endorsement of official poll results on May 9, EC chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong said on Friday. He said that asking the court to rule on the matter is the best course of action to clear confusion about the issue, adding that this will not affect the EC's plan to endorse at least 95% of the poll results by May 9. Under the constitution, parliament will convene its first meeting within 15 days of at least 95% of the poll results being announced by May 9. On Thursday, the poll agency issued a statement saying it had sought the court's ruling on two issues associated with its calculation method. There are two laws stipulating how the 150 party-list MP seats should be distributed. The laws are Section 91 of the constitution and Section 128 of the organic law governing the election of MPs. The decision follows complaints that Section 128 of the organic law may breach Section 91 of the constitution, according to the statement. The EC wants the court to rule whether the EC can calculate in a way that will award party-list seats to political parties that garnered fewer votes than the number required to get a party-list seat under the complicated mixed-member apportionment system used in the March 24 election.

Dems split as group urges PPRP tie-up Bangkok Post 8th Apr 2019
Most Democrat Party MPs-elect have agreed the party should join the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) to form the next government, said former party deputy leader Thavorn Senniam. Mr Thavorn, who stands to be re-elected as MP in Songkhla in the March 24 election, wrote on Facebook saying the majority of the party's constituency MP-elects thought the Democrat Party should be part of the next government if the PPRP leads the governing coalition. The party should be included in the PPRP-led government to push for the implementation of its campaign policies, he wrote, before adding the Democrat Party would be unable to fully take care of its constituents if it took on the role of the opposition. Also, should there be a snap election, the party would have no achievement to speak of that could be used to advertise itself in election campaign if the party had joined the opposition, according to Mr Thavorn. Last Friday, Mr Thavorn and 30 Democrat members met at the party's headquarters in Bangkok to discuss their stance on the matter.

Customs

Decision soon on PPP duty-free issue Bangkok Post 17th Apr 2019
A legal subcommittee under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) committee is expected to decide whether the bidding process for the duty-free shop concession falls under the newly amended PPP Act by the end of this month. If the subcommittee finds that duty-free shop bidding must be done under the act, the terms of reference must comply with Section 6 of the law, which stipulates that the bidding must be done in a transparent manner and can be inspected, said Prapas Kong-ied, director-general of the State Enterprise Policy Office. The new PPP law, which came into effect on March 10, requires that the chairmen of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Thai Industries and the Thai Bankers' Association be included as members of the PPP committee. Regulations and mechanisms relating to the bidding process are also required to be made more concise, transparent and inclusive. Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT) earlier decided to bid without waiting for a ruling from the PPP committee, saying its bid does not fall under the act.

 Customs: clearance times speeding up The Nation 11th Apr 2019
The duration of goods arriving at Suvarnabhumi's cargo and goods leaving customs custody through the green line was 115 minutes for pre-arrival procedures, and 17 hours and two minutes for normal procedures, a reduction of 15 hours and seven minutes from the year before.  For goods arriving at Laem Chabang via the green channel, it took one day and 53 minutes for pre-arrival procedures and 45 hours and 39 minutes for normal procedures, a reduction of customs clearance of eight hours and 46 minutes from 2017.  The duration of goods arriving at Suvarnabhumi cargo and goods leaving customs' custody was four hours and 55 minutes for pre-arrival procedures, and 22 hours and 40 minutes for normal procedures, a reduction of 17 hours and 45 minutes from 2017.  For goods arriving at Laem Chabang via the red line channel, it took 30 hours and 47 minutes for pre-arrival procedures and 35 hours and 57 minutes for normal procedure, a reduction of customs clearance of five hours and 10 minutes from 2017.  Asean finance ministers recently said they would strengthen their customs cooperation in order to faster facilitate goods in transit to promote more trade and investment in the region.  The Asian Development Bank also urged Asean to jointly reform their customs practices.

Apisak: RCEP deal likely this year Bangkok Post 5th Apr 2019
Talks on the long-delayed 16-country trade pact that includes Asean and China are expected to be finalised it this year, Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong said on Friday. “The RCEP is very important for this area, especially at a time that protectionism is increasing in this world,” said Mr Apisak, referring to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). “I’ve heard that we will finalise [it] by November this year,” he told a news conference after a meeting of Asean finance ministers and central bank governors in Chiang Rai. “Hopefully we can conclude by the end of the year,” added Asean secretary-general, Lim Jock Hoi. Negotiations began in 2012 for the RCEP, which envisions the creation of a free trade zone encompassing 45% of the world’s population and more than a third of its GDP. Participants had set a deadline of late 2015 for signing the agreement, but talks have dragged on for years amid numerous disagreements over market access and protected sectors.

Defense & Security

Forging ties with Hun Sen's son Bangkok Post 8th Apr 2019
Last week's official visit by Cambodian army chief Lt Gen Hun Manet, the son of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, has cemented military ties between the two countries and ushered in a new era, with both sides vowing not to let the border conflict dampen bilateral relations. Lt Gen Hun Manet, who is also the deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, has been widely known to many Thais for quite a long time, especially in his capacity as commander of both the Cambodian army's anti-terrorism unit, and as the 911 special warfare unit during the 2011 Thai-Cambodian border standoff. According to some media reports, Lt Gen Hun Manet ventured near the Thai-Cambodian border during the incident. In the middle of last year, he was promoted as the top commander of the Cambodian army. Last week's visit from April 1-2, was his first in his capacity as army chief. He came as the guest of army chief Apirat Kongsompong, who went to Cambodia on Jan 29-31. It was also Gen Apirat's first visit to a neighbouring country since he was promoted as army commander.

Thai, US navies kick off anti-submarine exercise Bangkok Post 7th Apr 2019
The Royal Thai Navy (RTN) and the US Navy on Sunday kicked off the annual Guardian Sea joint naval exercise in the Andaman Sea to enhance mutual capabilities in anti-submarine warfare while also improving information sharing between the two navies. The RTN side is led by Capt Saman Kanthapong, chief-of-staff of the 1st Brigade and the US Navy team by Capt Mathew Jerbi, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 7. The exercise was launched in a ceremony chaired by Rear Admiral Kamchorn Charoenkiat, commander of the 1st Brigade, on board HTMS Bhumibol Adulyadej. R/Adm Kamchorn said the first joint Thai-US Guardian Sea exercise was held in 2012, and it has been held annually ever since under a joint Thai-US command. "Guardian Sea is a bilateral exercise between the Thai and US navies," R/Adm Kamchorn said. "It is a marine operation involving ships and aircraft in anti-submarine warfare. It is a great opportunity for the two navies to exchange techniques, skills and planning on tracking and attacking submarines in various conditions."

Economics

Seek new markets, Thai exporters told  The Nation 17th Apr 2019
Representatives from the private sector urged Thai exporters to focus on new markets to replace the drop in shipments to the US and China, two of Thailand’s current top trading partners. From January to February this year, principal exports from Thailand to China and the US dropped significantly. China-bound exports of automatic data processing machines and parts fell by 18.9 per cent year on year, while rubber exports fell by 26.8 per cent and, most significantly, exports of motor cars, parts and accessories fell by 65 per cent, according to data from the Commerce Ministry. “The trade war has become a long-term problem for Thai exporters, and the situation may likely worsen in the long-term as the two countries struggle to find a compromise solution,” Vikrom Kromadit, the top executive of Amata Corporation Plc, warned.  The businessman suggests that Thai exporters seek opportunities to expand their production base in CLMV (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) countries.

SET hypes Well-Being Index Bangkok Post 13th Apr 2019
Businesses related to well-being are set to play a key role in driving Thailand's economy and contributing to the domestic capital market's development, with listed companies in the well-being segment representing 30% of the Stock Exchange of Thailand's total market capitalisation. The SET says well-being not only plays a role in bettering Thai society, but it also acts as an important mechanism in economic growth. Listed companies involved with well-being have consistently shown positive performance and high growth potential. Well-being companies listed on the bourse are large and diverse, ranging from agriculture and packaged foods to resorts. Production lines and supply chains embrace upstream manufacturers like farmers who sell products via wholesalers and retailers to consumers worldwide. The transport and logistics sector offers delivery and mass transport services to support tourism growth. The sector also encompasses medical services, including experts and facilities that contribute to Thailand's image as a medical tourism hub. At year-end 2018, 129 of the 605 SET-listed companies engaged in some sort of well-being business, with a combined market capitalisation of 5 trillion baht -- representing 30% of the bourse's total market cap. Apart from adding value to the economy, well-being companies have been instrumental in creating skilled workers.

Govt Mulls Stimulus to Help Boost Growth  The Nation 10th Apr 2019
The Fiscal Policy Office and related government agencies are discussing the launch of a stimulus package to boost the country's economic growth in view of domestic and overseas risks which have dampened consumer confidence, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Finance Prasong Poontaneat said yesterday. "We will prepare the appropriate measures and will meet with deputy prime minister Somkid Jatusripitak after the Songkran festival. We will consider when these measures should be announced and launched, taking into account the prevailing market sentiment," he said. The measures could be made public this month, Prasomng added.

Slow 2019 start for private investment Bangkok Post 8th Apr 2019
Concerns have been raised about foreign investment incentives amid prevailing domestic political uncertainty, says Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong. Although economic conditions in the first two quarters are anticipated to be positive, especially for private consumption, worries persist about private investment, particularly foreign direct investment, Mr Apisak said. The Private Investment Index (PII) contracted by 0.6% year-on-year in February, down from a 1.8% expansion a month earlier, according to Bank of Thailand data. The PII expanded by 3.5% year-on-year in 2018 after a 1.1% expansion in 2017 and a 0.1% contraction in 2016. The military-led government has been pushing private investment incentives through infrastructure projects to drive the country's economy forward, according to Mr Apisak. Such measures are aimed at offsetting an investment environment in which foreign investors have not decided to pour their investment capital into domestic projects, he said.

BoT considers expansion of local currency settlement Bangkok Post 6th Apr 2019
The Bank of Thailand is studying an expansion of its collaboration in local currency to intra-Asean direct investment, apart from existing trade settlement. The central bank is considering broadening the scope of local currency settlement for direct investment with Bank Indonesia (BI) beyond the existing cooperation in trade, said assistant governor Alisara Mahasandana. The move reflects progress after the Bank of Thailand and BI joined forces on baht-rupiah trade settlement about a year ago. Such a collaboration could occur with other regional currencies to promote Asean local currency settlement, Mrs Alisara said. At present, there is only bilateral cooperation in baht-ringgit settlement for direct investment under collaboration between the central bank and Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM). The Bank of Thailand and BNM began collaboration on baht-ringgit trade settlement in 2016 and expanded to direct investment settled in baht and ringgit a year later.

Somkid orders local-level stimulus Bangkok Post 5th Apr 2019
Sluggish exports in the first two months have prompted Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak to order the Commerce Ministry to help rev up local economic development schemes to stimulate domestic consumption and draw more foreign tourists to offset lower export prospects. Mr Somkid, who called a joint meeting with the Commerce Ministry's senior officials on Thursday, said local economic development needs to be beefed up over the next 2-3 months to shore up economic growth while the country waits for a new government to form. "The ministry needs to work more closely with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to promote local community markets and find local products in major and secondary provinces to serve 40 million foreign tourists this year," he said. "The ministry should partner with local producers and create a marketing plan and selling points for local products to cater to tourist demand. The online platform should be applied towards increasing sales volume." Mr Somkid is scheduled to meet today with the TAT and Business Development Department to discuss how to create brands for Thai products, especially at tourist destinations.

Energy

Peak power demand forecast to increase Bangkok Post 12th Apr 2019
The country's electricity consumption in the summer months is expected to reach 35,889 megawatts (MW) at peak hours, up 4.6% from the same season last year. Sarawut Kaewtathip, deputy permanent energy secretary, said the projection of power demand is estimated from Meteorological Department projections of the weather this summer reaching 42-43C. A change in temperature of 1C will have a corresponding power consumption change of 400MW, according to the ministry. Last year, peak power demand for the year was on April 24 at 2pm, reaching 34,317MW, up 0.6% from the same period in 2017. "Demand during the peak will not affect the country's total power generation as reserves of 56,034MW remain 20% higher than the demand projection," Mr Sarawut said. Many companies have installed power generation systems at their properties over the last three years, such as solar rooftops, biogas and natural gas. Power generation has increased in part thanks to that capacity, he said.

IEAT eyes single bidder for Map Ta Phut port megaproject Bangkok Post 12th Apr 2019
The Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT) expects to sign a contract for development of Map Ta Phut seaport in June because the only bidder -- a consortium led by PTT and Gulf Energy Development -- qualified for all the bidding criteria to win the megaproject. PTT Tank Terminal Co and Gulf formed a consortium and submitted bid envelopes for the third phase of Map Ta Phut seaport (55.4 billion baht), investing via a public-private partnership. Somchint Pilouk, the governor of the IEAT, said the bid is being considered and the winner will be announced later this month. "The bidding committee is in talks with PTT and Gulf about the development plan and the return on investment," she said. "Then the Office of the Attorney-General will consider a draft contract before signing in June." On Feb 15, PTT and Gulf submitted a bid envelope for the third phase of Map Ta Phut seaport, with the IEAT hosting the project. Map Ta Phut seaport is one of five megaprojects under the flagship Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) scheme.

B10 roll-out planned for May Bangkok Post 11th Apr 2019
The Energy Ministry plans to use both biodiesel B10 and B7 at petrol stations nationwide from the end of May. B10 contains 10% methyl ester (ME) from crude palm oil, combined with diesel. The combination available at petrol stations now is B7, with 7% ME. Minister Siri Jirapongphan said most diesel-based vehicles are compatible with B10, such as pickups, trucks and buses. Some 80% of diesel-powered vehicles on local roads are made and assembled by Japanese companies, Mr Siri said. "European and US brands are not B10 compatible," he said. Mr Siri said policymakers plan to discuss this matter with relevant stakeholders, including oil traders, ME makers and car assemblers, aiming to make B10 the preferred diesel fuel within a planned time frame. "Incentives to encourage motorists to shift to B10 will be announced soon, such as a lower retail price and a collection of a levy and tax," he said.

Most trucks tipped to be B20-compliant Bangkok Post 10th Apr 2019
Energy policymakers announced yesterday that biodiesel B20 will be compatible with nearly all general trucks on the road in Thailand. Nantika Thangsuphanich, director-general of the Energy Business Department, said the majority of trucks on the road will be compatible with B20. Owners of Isuzu trucks should contact the Isuzu consultation centre to check and change lube oil and car filters when switching to B20. A guarantee letter from truck assemblers was sent to the department on Tuesday, paving the way for B20 to become available at 156 fuelling stations nationwide. Toyota announced that it's ready to comply with B20 fuel and that the company supports the government's initiative to tackle air pollution. The Hilux and Fortuner models are compatible with the biofuel, Toyota said, and the price of the Hilux Revo will decline as a result of adopting the cheaper fuel.

100 plants mulled for solar waste Bangkok Post 9th Apr 2019
The Industry Ministry is considering setting up a plant to handle old and irreparably damaged solar cells. It would also support private companies in establishing roughly 100 plants to either repair or recycle about 90% of between 620,000 and 790,000 tonnes of solar cells whose lives will start to expire in the next three years, the ministry said on Monday. These are among the measures being considered to deal with what is expected to be huge amounts of solar-cell waste from 2022, said Surapol Chamat, deputy permanent secretary for industry. Solar panels normally have a 20-year lifespan and Thailand has been using them since 2002, he said. After 20 years, their power-generating capacity is drastically reduced but they may still be able to generate power. Depending on their condition at the time of expiry, the panels will need to be either destroyed, repaired or recycled, Mr Surapol added.

Household LPG subsidies to continue to July The Nation 9th Apr 2019
The Energy Ministry is confident that support from the oil fund will maintain the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) at Bt363 per 15 kilograms until July, its minister, Siri Jirapongpha, said recently. The fund will continue to subsidise the costs of energy for household customers following the Energy Policy Committee approval. The committee approved losses to the oil fund of up to Bt7 billion to support the household costs for LPG. So far, the fund is showing a net loss of I Bt6.13 billion, leaving room for continuing price subsidies through to July, said Siri.

PTT, Gulf team up on EEC ports Bangkok Post 4th Apr 2019
PTT Plc, the national oil and gas conglomerate, is wagering on a consortium with Gulf Energy Development Plc to develop two megaprojects in the flagship Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), saying the companies could create good synergy in the long run. PTT Tank Terminal Co and Gulf formed the consortium and submitted bid envelopes for the third phases of Laem Chabang seaport (114 billion baht) and Map Ta Phut seaport (55.4 billion baht). Laem Chabang seaport is in Chon Buri province. The Port Authority of Thailand plans to announce a winning bidder on April 11. PTT and Gulf formed the consortium with China Harbour Engineering Co. Map Ta Phut seaport is in Rayong province. The Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand plans to announce a winning bidder in May. Chansin Treenuchagron, president and chief executive of PTT, said the group is optimistic about the partnership with Gulf because each company has different strengths.

Biomass, biogas group cries foul over PDP Bangkok Post 4th Apr 2019
Thai renewable power operators plan to file a lawsuit against a new version of the power development plan (PDP) 2018-37 after seeing it has a lower quota for renewable power generation. Pajon Sriboonruang, president of the Thai Biogas Trade Association (TBTA), said the power capacity quota from renewable energy in the PDP is lower than the association expected. "We are filing the claim against energy policymakers with the Administrative Court [today] to delay the implementation schedule noted in the new PDP," said Mr Pajon. The PDP 2018-37, approved in late January by the National Energy Policy Council, is set to limit the power capacity for biomass and biogas, although both resources have lots of potential and are abundant, he said. The PDP offers many privileges and incentives for solar power operators, even allowing households to join the solar power scheme, while policymakers plan to allow sales of output to the state grid.

Financial Services

Appraisals lower than market price Bangkok Post 16th Apr 2019
Appraisal prices of buildings, which are used to compute the land and buildings tax, will be lower than the market prices to help taxpayers avoid paying too much tax, says the Treasury Department. The appraisal prices will be based on buildings' width and height regardless of materials and decoration, meaning they are flat rates, said director-general Amnuay Preemonwong. Take a single detached home as an example. Its appraisal price could be 7,500 baht per square metre, well below the current market price of at least 10,000 baht per sq m, he said. To make it easier for local administra- tive officers to appraise buildings and reduce discretion, the department decreased the number of building models from 69 to 31, said Mr Amnuay. The land and buildings tax, scheduled to come into force from Jan 1, 2020, will replace the house and land tax and the local development tax, which have drawn criticism for being outdated.

Low-rated bonds all the rage in Q1 Bangkok Post 13th Apr 2019
Issuance of non-rated and non-investment-grade long-term debentures rose substantially in the first quarter, signalling increased risk-taking behaviour by bond investors, says the Thai Bond Market Association (TBMA). New issuance of long-term corporate bonds in the first quarter totalled 279.78 billion baht, up 24% year-on-year, according to the TBMA. Of the amount, 255.44 billion was issued by companies operating in the real sector. TBMA president Tada Phutthitada said the value of long-term corporate bond issuance increased in all ratings groups. Classified by rating and year-on-year growth, non-rated bonds showed the highest growth of 184% year-on-year to 29.3 billion baht from the 10.3 billion logged in last year's first quarter. Issuance of non-investment-grade bonds, classified as those rated below BB+, came second, up 95% year-on-year to 2.2 billion baht from 1.12 billion. Issuance of the highest investment-grade bonds, rated AAA to AA-, grew by a mere 10% year-on-year to 61.6 billion baht from 56 billion. "Surprisingly, non-rated bonds grew to nearly 30 billion baht," Mr Tada said.

BOT joins Asean peers in rush for payments scheme The Nation 12th Apr 2019
Kukkong Ruckphaopunt, executive vice president of Bangkok Bank cited BOT governor Veerathai Santiprabhob as saying that a taskforce had been set up to guide the establishment of the system – based on QR codes – for use in all 10 Asean countries.  Veerathai had been attending a meeting to advance the goal of payment connectivity in the region. Commercial banks would be invited to join the taskforce later, Kukkong quoted Veerathai as saying. The BOT is expected to call in commercial banks for discussions on the project later. If the arrangements are finalised quickly, the QR code payment system would likely be launched late this year, Kukkong said.  For the system to work, Asean countries must agree on the way that payment information will be transmitted under a uniform standard, which factors in the different currencies, the range of merchants and the codes that will be used.  Officials need to decide whether the central interbank payment system will use ITMX or sponsoring banks, while rules for business also must be finalised.  Once the QR code payment system is finalised, the related parties can determine a logo and a name for the system that will apply in all Asean countries. The logo would have a technical function in enabling scans to be made for payments, in a similar way to how the PromptPay logo with its QR code can be scanned by users, with the payment process recognised by all of Thailand’s banks.

Risky loans by cooperatives a concern Bangkok Post 11th Apr 2019
The National Credit Bureau (NCB) has voiced concerns about the asset quality of loans extended by savings cooperatives, particularly for lengthy loans, and about the high debt-service ratio (DSR) of borrowers. Chief executive Surapol Opasatien said the savings cooperatives never set a maximum age for borrowers and they offer very long-term loans -- practices that could deteriorate asset quality. "For instance, some saving cooperatives offer up to 150-month instalment loans or 12½ years to borrowers aged 50-55," he said. "They allow the borrower's DSR to be as high as 70-80%. Such lending conditions could lead to asset quality deterioration, especially after borrowers retire." Savings cooperatives' underpricing of risk is a key area of concern by the Bank of Thailand. The cooperatives offer high returns to attract depositors and often lend to risky groups in exchange for high rate charges. Mr Surapol said demand for loans from savings cooperatives is growing this year and conditions are more lenient than those of financial institutions. Most savings cooperatives are reluctant to become NCB members because they are worried about tighter and complicated regulations, which could lead to higher cost, he said, adding that fear of legal punishment in case of business operation distress is also another reason preventing them from applying as credit bureau members.

NVDR aids foreign interest Bangkok Post 10th Apr 2019
Foreign short-sell transactions on the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) remain at normal levels as most foreign equity transactions are still conducted via custodians, says SET president Pakorn Peetathawatchai. The SET allowed foreign investors to borrow stocks listed as non-voting depository receipts (NVDRs) for short-selling transactions, effective since April 3. Mr Pakorn signed the order on March 19 to let foreign investors borrow underlying securities on the NVDR list as ordinary shares eligible for short-selling transactions. The move facilitates greater convenience and transparency in terms of information disclosure for foreign short-selling, he said. Naked short-selling, or naked shorting, is the practice of short-selling a tradable asset of any kind without first borrowing the security or ensuring that the security can be borrowed.

Authorities focus on cash transactions Bangkok Post 9th Apr 2019
Entrepreneurs receiving cash from business activities will be scrutinised by authorities more vigorously than those opting to register via an official online payment platform, says the Bank of Thailand. Business owners or merchants that avoid payment via the PromptPay money transfer platform will be monitored by relevant authorities more closely than those that offer online payment, said governor Veerathai Santiprabhob. The digital payment platform offers transparency, he said. The central bank chief's comments came after business operators raised concerns over taxation and avoiding transactions via PromptPay following the enforcement of the E-payment Act on March 21. The Revenue Department has insisted the purpose of the Act is not only tax collection, but also convenience for taxpayers. Yet some merchants do not believe this rationale and prefer to do business in cash, offering a 3-20% discount for using to cash to purchase products, reported Thansettakij Multimedia.

MTL: Premium growth limited by industry changes Bangkok Post 5th Apr 2019
Double-digit premium growth in the insurance industry will be difficult to achieve going forward after the industry's premium contraction in January, says Muang Thai Life Assurance (MTL). Single-digit growth in insurance premiums is anticipated from digital disruption, a stricter regulatory environment and a change in consumer lifestyles, said MTL president and chief executive Sara Lamsam. "I agree that regulatory oversight is needed, but it will have an impact," Mr Sara said. "The insurance industry's total received premiums contracted for the first time in January." Thailand is set to apply the Financial Sector Assessment Programme, which will require local insurance companies to be assessed under the Insurance Core Principles (ICPs) of the International Association of Insurance Supervisors. The ICPs will assess the effectiveness of each local regulator and business operator to meet international standards.

Food & Agriculture

Meeting with lenders on high-value trees Bangkok Post 12th Apr 2019
The Commerce Ministry is scheduled to meet with financial institutions after Songkran to ask the latter to accept high-value or economic trees as loan collateral from farmers. According to Vuttikrai Leewiraphan, director-general of the Business Development Department, the department will call a joint meeting on April 19 with financial institutions and related state units, including the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC), the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Bank of Thailand, Krungthai Bank, Bangkok Bank, Kasikornbank, Siam Commercial Bank and the Thai Credit Guarantee Corporation. Officials will ask all parties for help in accepting high-value trees as loan collateral and discuss other issues deemed as obstacles to farmers gaining access to loans. The Commerce Ministry is working with the biodiversity-based Economy Development Office, the Royal Forest Department, the Forest Industry Organization, Kasetsart University and the BAAC to set up guideline prices for economic trees to be used as collateral under the new Secured Transactions Act.

'Agri-map' aims to fix farms' supply inefficiencies Bangkok Post 10th Apr 2019
The government is creating an "agri-map" to more efficiently manage the supply and demand of farm products as it moves to comprehensively reform the agricultural sector, Agriculture Minister Grisada Boonrach said on Tuesday. The map will enable government agencies to assess the specific amount of farm products to produce in different areas at various times of the year in order to prevent oversupply. Some crops flood the markets, driving down prices and prompting the government to fork out subsidies that can run into hundreds of billions of baht a year, according to the minister. A better management system is needed to strike a balance between supply and demand and ease pressure on the national budget, he said. Mr Grisada said he has instructed the ministry's permanent secretary and the Office of the Agricultural Economics to compile data about key cash crops and analyse it, with a focus on certain crops both domestically and abroad.

Govt urged to help farmers shift practices The Nation 9th Apr 2019
ENVIRONMENTAL experts are calling on the food industry to shift from monoculture maize farming both within and outside Thailand in order to sustainably solve the problem of air pollution from the burning of fields. They have also called on policymakers to come up with policies that help farmers opt for more ecologically friendly farming methods.  With provinces in the North again this year choking in dense smog from wildfires and outdoor burning, BioThai Foundation director Withoon Lienchamroon said the major cause of the chronic pollution problem is the widespread monoculture farming in the region and areas across the border.  Laying the blame on large transnational firms and the authorities, Withoon said farmers are being allowed to cut down forests to expand their farms and slash and burn their fields every year to grow corn. He said big companies sign contracts with farmers, providing them with seeds and buying their crops, while the authorities also encourage farmers to grow more monoculture cash crops such as maize and sugarcane.  “Even though some large food companies have promised not to buy maize from farms that are encroaching on forests and other inappropriate areas, many are still purchasing maize from neighbouring countries,” Withoon said.

Agency monitoring food prices Bangkok Post 6th Apr 2019
With consumer prices surging in March, manufacturers are being asked to maintain their prices, particularly during the transition period before the new government is formed. Whichai Phochanakij, director-general of the Internal Trade Department, said the department is monitoring the prices of processed foods and products for daily use to prevent traders from profiteering. "The department will not allow any consumer product manufacturers to raise prices during this period, which would affect the cost of living," he said. "The department has discussed the matter with the Thai Restaurant Association, and they pledged that higher fresh vegetable prices will not cause them to raise prices for processed food." Mr Whichai said the department is scheduled to call a meeting with consumer goods makers within the next two weeks to ask for cooperation in capping product prices. Next month, the ministry plans to host a joint public and private meeting chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak to discuss the cost of living, particularly during the transition period.

Health & Life Sciences

Deadline to register medical marijuana May 19, FDA chief says The Nation 15th Apr 2019
Doctors and medical professionals who wish to obtain a license to legally prescribe medical marijuana as a treatment must register and undergo training with the Public Heath Ministry or those certified by the ministry, Tares added,  Registration opened on February 27 and so far 1,053 people have declared possession of medical marijuana and 8,850 others have called the FDA hotline 1556 (press 3) and the Office of The Narcotics Control Board's hotline 1386 (press 3) for more information, Tares said.  Just before the Songkran holidays, 239 people - most of whom were patients requiring medical marijuana to treat their ailments - declared their possession, he added. Those needing to use marijuana for medical purposes will not be punished for drug possession if they notify the administration before the May 19 deadline, Tares affirmed, urging such individuals to prepare the related documents (a Thai national ID card, a declaration form, a medical certificate to confirm the need for medical marijuana) as well as the marijuana in their possession (for large quantities, photographs might be sufficient) to present to the FDA in Bangkok or to the respective provincial health offices.  Medical professionals wishing to legally prescribe medical marijuana must register and undergo training with either of the two currently authorized agencies: doctors, dentists and pharmacists must be trained by the Department Medical of Service while traditional medicinal doctors or folk doctors must be trained by the Department of Thai Traditional And Alternative Medicine, he said.

New approach urged to protect the elderly The Nation 15th Apr 2019
IN RESPONSE to a study that found the rights of seniors being violated as the nation officially becomes an ageing society, the Thai Health Promotion Foundation (ThaiHealth) and allies are calling on the authorities to create a system of protection for the elderly.  Taking such action now will be a worthy Songkran gift to the 10.9 million seniors in the country, the foundation suggested. The ThaiHealth sponsored study, conducted by the Foundation of Thai Gerontology Research and Development Institute, will be used to create a legal and regulatory protection system for senior citizens. Previous studies had discovered that the elderly, especially those who have lost control over their bodies, were often deprived of their basic rights, underwent mental abuse and abandonment, or were cheated out of their assets. The research detailed the role related government agencies can play in the mission of protecting seniors, the laws and regulations required, as well as the establishment of a network to monitor the violation of elderly people’s rights and the setting up of clubs for elderly people.  Such findings are in line with ongoing work spearheaded by the Social Development and Human Security Ministry’s Department of Senior Services to support the increasing number of aged people in Thai society, said ThaiHealth’s Poranee Phuprasert, who is director of the foundation’s vulnerable group wellbeing promotion office.

Careful plans lead to success with office tech in healthcare  The Nation 12th Apr 2019
Around the world, health service providers struggle to keep up with the pace of change. In response, most healthcare providers have focused on back-office efficiency and improving simple transactions, while leaving the majority of patient-facing activities unchanged. Digital technology has a vital role in the healthcare industry, especially for senior and aftercare programmes, according to a report by KPMG.  “A combination of advanced technology can be used in multiple angles of healthcare through real-time data collection from IoT and wearable devices. Advanced analytic tools such as AI, precision medicine and Robotic Process Automation can certainly help hospitals and healthcare providers deliver healthy and quality living to the elderly.” Navigating this new landscape is challenging for organisations and their leaders as they try to increase productivity and quality through digital technology. There is no doubt, however, that technological transformation will be one of the major differentiators between successful and unsuccessful providers over the next decade. The competing pressures of cost and expectations of quality mean that doing nothing is not a sustainable option.

Price limits pressure hospitals Bangkok Post 11th Apr 2019
Rising cases of influenza and dengue fever are poised to generate revenue growth for hospitals in the first quarter, but resurfacing prospects of medical price controls will exert downward pressure on healthcare share prices, says Kasikorn Securities (KS). The Central Committee on Prices and Services (CPGS) is not expected to have a policy to control medical prices and healthcare services for private hospitals, but frequent inspections are likely, said KS senior analyst Piyachat Ratanasuvan. The resolution from the Health Facilities Board that drugs dispensed by hospitals should not be included with drugs placed on the Commerce Ministry's price control watch list is expected to be submitted to the sub-committee overseeing medical prices and healthcare services for consideration, said Ms Piyachat. The sub-committee should take some time before they come up with a proposal to the CPGS, she said. "We also expect the [healthcare] sector to remain under a regulatory overhang from potential price controls for drugs and services, which will resurface and exert downward pressure on share prices," said Ms Piyachat. KS forecasts revenue in the healthcare sector to exceed 7% in 2019-20, driven by cash patients and Social Security Office revenue recovery.

Thailand in worst 14 for TB Bangkok Post 10th Apr 2019
The government and health advocates are struggling to deal with tuberculosis as Thailand still has a high global ranking among TB-plagued countries. "We are one of the 14 worst countries hit by this severely infectious disease which has spread across 200 countries," Arth Nana, executive committee chairman of the Anti-TB Association of Thailand, said on Tuesday. "We must improve the situation in order to do away with TB by 2021," he insisted, referring to a goal put in place by the Disease Control Department. In 2017, the department set its five-year plan to control the disease and reduce the number of patients. But two years in, its goals remain far from complete. In Bangkok alone, new TB cases are on the rise, attributed to the influx of migrant workers, the most vulnerable group. The number of foreign workers who were registered for treatment increased from 853 in 2017 to 1,123 last year.

Healthcare workforce crisis looming Bangkok Post 9th Apr 2019
Healthcare is one of the largest sectors and employers in the world, worth over US$9 trillion globally and consuming an average of 10% of a country's GDP. However, with longer life expectancy and global population growth, having enough healthcare facilities and workforce is a growing concern -- especially in countries that are rapidly ageing, according to the global professional services consultancy KPMG. A shortfall of 18 million health workers by 2030 will have a devastating impact on the world's healthcare sector, warns Dr Mark Britnell, KPMG's global chairman for healthcare. There are not enough staff to care for patients, and if swift action is not taken, there will soon be a workforce crisis with severe implications on a global scale, he said. The increase in the elderly population and decrease in the number of children means that countries are faced with more challenges to care for and support not only the entire population, but significantly, the elderly. Thailand has been greying rapidly, with the UN projecting that the share of people aged 65 or older will increase from 10.5% of the population in 2015 to 19.5% in 2030 and 25.9% 2040. Generally, a society is considered "aged" when when its over-65 population exceeds 14% of the total and "super-aged" when the ratio reaches 21%.

Cabinet okays Bt148m to prevent outbreak of African swine flu The Nation 9th Apr 2019
THE CABINET on Tuesday approved a Bt148.54-million budget for implementing measures to prevent the outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF), the agriculture minister said. Agriculture Minister Grisada Boonrach said the Cabinet agreed to add this issue to the national agenda and approved the budget of carrying out necessary measures. The budget will be disbursed over three fiscal years – Bt53.6 million in 2019 fiscal year, Bt52.41 million in 2020 and Bt42.51 million in 2021. The budget will be used to implement measures for monitoring the disease and for building furnaces to destroy contaminated pig carcasses. Grisada explained that the ASF virus can survive if the infected animals are buried, so it would be safer to destroy the carcasses in special furnaces. He added that the Agriculture Ministry decided to propose these measures after the outbreak spread to 18 countries since 2018, including 10 countries in Europe, four in Africa and four in Asia. He said there have been 113 occurrences of the disease in 28 provinces in China, 10 in Mongolia, 221 occurrences in 17 provinces in Vietnam and one in Cambodia.

Haze causes thousands to fall ill in North Bangkok Post 8th Apr 2019
CHIANG MAI: More than 8,600 residents in northern Thailand have sought treatment for haze-related respiratory illnesses since January, according to the National Health Security Office (NHSO). Since February, air concentrations of PM2.5 pollutants in the northern provinces have soared beyond the safe threshold set by the government and World Health Organisation (WHO). Recently, PM2.5 levels in Chiang Mai's Mae Taeng district reached an alarming level of 492.57 microgrammes per cubic metre (µg/m³), 10 times the safe limit imposed in Thailand and 20 times the safe limit of the WHO. In Chiang Rai's Mae Sai district, the PM2.5 level has remained above 100µg/m³ metre since March 13. Yesterday, the PM2.5 average in nine northern provinces was between 47 and 123µg/m³ in Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Lampang, Lamphun, Mae Hong Son, Nan, Phrae, Phayao and Tak. The highest level was reported in tambon Jong Kham of Muang district, Mae Hong Son, according to the Pollution Control Department.

Most private hospitals overcharging Bangkok Post 6th Apr 2019
The Commerce Ministry has found that more than half of private hospitals overcharge for medicines and medical services. Whichai Phochanakij, director-general of the Internal Trade Department, who chaired a meeting of the working group tasked with studying the production cost of medicines and medical services, said 295 of a total of 353 private hospitals in Thailand had submitted production cost information for their medicines and medical services to the working group as of Thursday. That leaves 58 private hospitals that have yet to provide any information to the panel, mostly smaller hospitals. The government set an April 4 deadline for all private hospitals, regardless of size, to submit the data or face penalties under the 1999 Prices of Goods and Services Act. According to the act, those that 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.

ICT

Keeping up with cybercrimes Bangkok Post 15th Apr 2019
One of the country's top cybercrime busters, Pol Col Siriwat Deephor, said that while there are enough laws in place to deal with crime and other nefarious activities on the internet, there is a lack of tech-savvy police officers who are adequately trained to deal with high-tech crimes. As the deputy commander of the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD), Pol Col Siriwat is responsible for overseeing investigations into cybercrime cases. While he is known for his relentless battle against the trade of child pornography by online criminal gangs, recently he has been focusing on groups that specialise in creating and distributing fake information through social media, which is increasingly being used by certain groups and/or individuals to undermine their political rivals. Pol Col Siriwat was a student of Class 33 in the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School, and a graduate of the Royal Police Cadet Academy. He then obtained a master's degree and a doctorate in criminology from Mahidol University. He was starting out as an officer at a police station in Nonthaburi, when he began to develop an interest in computer sciences and technology -- an interest that served him well and defined his career path.

Digital TV channels to unplug Bangkok Post 12th Apr 2019
Four or five digital TV operators plan to return their operating licences and go off the air after the government's decision on Thursday to invoke Section 44, which allows all existing digital TV operators to exit the segment without having to pay the remaining licence payments or face any additional financial penalties. The government will waive the remaining two terms of licence payments for all digital TV operators, as well as subsidise rental fees for broadcasting networks (MUX) for the remaining nine years of the digital TV licences. Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), insisted that a reasonable reserve price for the planned 700-megahertz licence auction in June is necessary to attract prospective bidders and facilitate 5G adoption in the country. "The reserve price for the 700MHz licence auction will be based on the real value of the spectrum range, not the winning prices of previous auctions, as the 900MHz auction prices ended up being too high," Mr Takorn said. "The NBTC is thankful for the government's decision, as it directly resolves the existing deadlock in terms of both digital TV operators' financial burden and telecom operators' burden for 900MHz licence payments. "Section 44 clears the burden for both industries."

Prayut extends fee payments for mobile operators Bangkok Post 11th Apr 2019
Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has been criticised for using his special powers to effectively extend the 900MHz annual licence-fee payment terms for three major mobile phone operators by five years. The order, based on Section 44 of the interim constitution and published in the Royal Gazette on Thursday taking effect immediately, instructed the Office of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) to change the payment plans to 10 annual instalments, starting from the years the operators received their licences. Up until now, they were to pay the fees in four yearly instalments, ending in 2020-21 (see chart below). The order benefited Advanced Info Service (AIS), True Move H Universal Communication (TUC) and Total Access Communication (DTAC) through its subsidiary DTAC Trinet. AIS and TUC were required to pay their last term worth 60 billion baht each in 2020. DTAC Trinet must pay the last 30-billion-baht instalment in 2021. The order aimed to give the operators an incentive to bid for 700MHz and 2600MHz spectra for the development of 5G communication services. Earlier, the companies claimed they would not be able to join the 5G auction because of the burden.  But critics say the order was not necessary since the operators are profitable and could afford to pay the fees by the original schedules.

NBTC flees from OTT surcharge plan Bangkok Post 10th Apr 2019
The telecom regulator has backtracked on its plan to impose a surcharge on network bandwidth usage by over-the-top (OTT) service providers such as Facebook and Line, after the proposal was widely criticised by telecom veterans and the public last week. Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), said he will scrap the planned motion to raise network bandwidth usage surcharges at August's Asean regulatory meeting, which will be held in Bangkok. "Public perception differs from the regulator's intentions," he said. The surcharge would have been based on the amount of OTT bandwidth used, aiming to indirectly force OTT providers to pay a surcharge to international internet gateway (IIG) operators if the OTT were classified as a "big OTT". Mr Takorn said the move would implement a measure of fairness for the telecom operators that created the network infrastructure and would also generate revenue for the state coffers.

Telecom firms fret over cable Bangkok Post 9th Apr 2019
The Telecommunications Association of Thailand (TCT) reports 10 telecom companies are concerned about the state's policy to move all existing overhead telecom and broadcasting cables in Bangkok underground within two years, saying it will impose excessive costs on telecom firms. The TCT is urging the government to subsidise construction costs of the underground pipelines that will hold the cables, while telecom companies are willing to pay a "reasonable" rental fee to the state. The association said a better plan would be a hybrid model that incorporates both underground pipelines and overhead poles, as some roads could use overhead tubing where all cables would be grouped together into a single tube. "Even in New York and Tokyo, they have overhead cables in some parts of these cities, but grouped in a proper way," said TCT president Monchai Noosong. Mr Monchai said the organisation set up a working panel to study all the critical factors of the procedure. It expects to finish the study in four months, then submit it to the government.

IIG operators slam NBTC initiative Bangkok Post 5th Apr 2019
International internet gateway (IIG) operators and telecom veterans have poured scorn on the telecom regulator's request to categorise internet traffic by local or over-the-top service, calling the idea impractical, a breach of user data and a barrier to Thailand's digital economy development. The initiative by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) is seen as "using a sledgehammer to crack a nut" or, in Thai parlance, "riding an elephant to chase a grasshopper", said Weeradej Panichwisai, telecom research manager and head of operations at IDC Thailand. The criticism came after the NBTC on Wednesday floated a plan to impose a network bandwidth usage surcharge on internet traffic provided by over-the-top (OTT) service providers like Facebook, YouTube, Line and Netflix, which offer video streaming that takes up an outsize portion of internet traffic. The surcharge would be based on the amount of OTT bandwidth used. DIGITAL DISRUPTER Vichai Bencharongkul, honorary president of the Telecommunication Association of Thailand, said the NBTC's idea of collecting OTT charges via IIGs would create a barrier to development of the digital economy, reflecting the fact that Thailand leads Asean in digital cross-border traffic but not in digital development itself.

NBTC vouches for 5G to revive economy with technology Bangkok Post 5th Apr 2019
In the age of the Internet of Things (IoT), where electronic devices connect and share information online, it is undeniable that the development of 5G technology is crucial. Therefore, Office of The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) is determined to establish 5G network in Thailand to boost the national economy and efficiently prepare the country for the upcoming ageing society. In order to have 5G readily available, three main factors are to be developed. Firstly, Spectrum must be able to support faster data transfer through its network. Hence, NBTC will put 700 MHz and 2600 MHz frequencies up for auction to provide the service in the near future. The second factor is Infrastructure. More data and faster 5G connectivity, more bandwidth the infrastructure needs to have. Insufficient bandwidth would prevent 5G from reaching its full potential. Therefore, investment from the private sector will enhance efficiency and accelerate coverage expansion. Lastly, well-developed Connectivity for 5G will mean an easy-to-use, convefnient, extensive network that connects with multiple types of IoT and AI devices. Nationwide, a competent 5G network will open up considerable economic opportunities for Thailand. As such, the implication without it could make Thailand experience substantial loss. NBTC has estimated the potential economic loss to be as high as 2.3 trillion baht by 2030, which is expected to be the year 5G will have most impact on the country’s economy. The number is equivalent to 20 percent of Thailand’s current GDP and the industrial production that requires machinery and technology will be the most damaged sector.

Firms urge soft loans for robotics adoption Bangkok Post 5th Apr 2019
Local business operators are calling for the government to launch soft loan measures for companies to encourage investment in robotics and automation, says the Industry Ministry. Siriruj Chulakaratana, the ministry's deputy permanent secretary, said it is working on a new plan to propose to Pasu Loharjun, permanent secretary for acknowledgement and approval. "Thailand's industrial development plan emphasises adoption of robotics and automation in the private sector, with financial support from government agencies," he said. Mr Siriruj said the S-curve policy, which includes robotics and automation, has received a positive response from companies, but to create new demand financial incentives are needed to encourage investment in technology for operations and manufacturing. The ministry's development plan also aims to generate demand for electric vehicles, another S-curve industry, he said.

Infrastructure

SRT eyes new city river icon Bangkok Post 16th Apr 2019
Land along the Chao Phraya River is becoming a magnet for real estate development, with companies keen to remodel areas on both sides of the river. Much of this interest comes in the wake of last year's opening of Iconsiam, a high-end mixed-use project which garnered a huge amount of publicity. It now seems likely that many more new projects will follow suit, with the most high-profile being the proposed "Chao Phraya Gateway". It is the brainchild of the State Railway of Thailand (SRT), which hopes to capitalise on a 277 rai plot on the riverside area in Klong Toey district. Currently, the plot remains undeveloped. There is the old Mae Nam railway station on Chua Phloeng Road near Rama III Road, a rarely used railway line and a vast area occupied by land encroachers and warehouses. The SRT has a grand vision to use this derelict area to house a new mixed-used project on a par with Iconsiam. It believes the plot could be the location for a regional shopping hub, ultra-luxury hotels, condominiums, a posh shopping mall as well as modern office spaces.

Access to capital hampers smart city creation in the region Bangkok Post 15th Apr 2019
Access to capital is the most critical barrier for developing smart cities in Asean nations, including Thailand, as countries struggle to find alternative sources of investment for infrastructure projects with high upfront costs. The government, through the Digital Economy Promotion Agency (Depa), is urging cities to collaborate with the private sector to form a city development company through a public-private partnership (PPP) to secure funding for development projects. More importantly, the PPP model would enhance the use and management of assets in cities as well as embrace innovative businesses, accelerating the path to becoming a smart city or a city filled with sensors that collects data to optimise utilities like power grids and traffic lights. The city development company model has already been established in Phuket, Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen. Passakon Prathombutr, senior executive vice-president and chief technology officer of Depa, said partnerships with the private sector in any province is the key to success. Local firms should collaborate on developing smart infrastructure by sharing data and brainstorming innovative ways to tackle cities' major challenges.

Lofty projects grind to a halt Bangkok Post 15th Apr 2019
Launching a raft of megaprojects was to be the legacy of the military government. But the challenge is not about proposing projects but how to make them materialise. Currently, the government and ministry officials are trying to move at least 11 schemes forward, with limited success. These projects have suffered from cost blowouts and land expropriation problems. As the projects drag on, it is likely that the schemes' costs will rise along with the price of construction materials and land plots. The price of some land plots has soared by 200% since they received the green light. One project struggling with land expropriation issues is a high-speed train scheme from Bangkok to Hua Hin. The 100 billion baht project was shelved because the Department of Highways disapproved of the use of road medians along Phetkasem road in Phetchaburi for the rail project. Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said the Bangkok to Hua Hin high-speed train project is unlikely to get off the ground under this administration.

Rail Department established after royal endorsement Bangkok Post 15th Apr 2019
The Rail Department was formally established on Monday after receiving royal endorsement from His Majesty the King. The endorsement of the new agency under the Transport Ministry was published in the Royal Gazette on Sunday and took effect on Monday. The newly created agency was upgraded from the Rail Project Development Office under the Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning Office. It functions as a policymaker and regulator for overall rail management as the country is embarking on numerous railway projects including high-speed train lines, beginning with the under-construction double-track line between Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima. Over the next 10 years, plans call for developing a 6,000km network with double-track, electric and high-speed rail. “The Rail Department is tasked with proposing rail-related policy, strategy and development plans for the complete rail network, not only at home but also connectivity with neighbouring countries,” Nathporn Chatusripitak, a spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, said in February.

PM wields Article 44 for rail progress The Nation 12th Apr 2019
Prayut’s use of his authority under Article 44 of the interim constitution also included an order for the establishment of a committee that would cut through wrangling over the fares to be charged on the Green Line and its extensions. The action requires that negotiations with the Green Line concessionaire, Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTSC), must be finalised within 30 days. The Green line extensions cover Baring-Samut Prakan and Mo Chit-Saphan Mai-Ku Kot.  According to the website of the Royal Gazette, the order by Prayut, as chief of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), requires the BMA to hire a private enterprise to install the electric system to get the extensions up and running quickly in order to ease traffic problems. The hiring arrangement would not come under a public-private partnership (PPP) scheme. To ensure that the Green Line and its extensions are run as the same network, a committee must be established by Ministry of Interior and will be chaired by the Interior Ministry’s permanent-secretary and include the Finance Ministry’s permanent-secretary, the Budget Bureau’s director-general, the secretary-general of the Council of State, the secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Board, the attorney-general, and the director-general of State Enterprise Policy Office as well as experts in finance and electric train systems. The committee will define the benefit-sharing criteria and other criteria for a combination of the Green Line extensions of Saphan Taksin-Bang Wa and Onnut-Baring, as well as the extensions of Baring-Samut Prakan and Mo Chit-Saphan Mai-Ku Kot, while finalising the negotiations with Green Line concessionaire BTSC, a subsidiary of BTS Group Holdings. The 30 days applies from the date of the appointment of the committee.

Nod to Dam Project from Bangkok to Ayudhaya The Nation 10th Apr 2019
Cabinet yesterday approved a nine year budget of Bt4.4 billion, from 2019 to 2027, for infrastructure development in Klong Prem Prachakorn, said Col Atisit Chainuwat , assistant spokeperson to Prime Minister's Office after a meeting yesterday. He said the project involves the construction of dams from Municipal Road in Chatuchak district to the end the Bangkok, extending further to Klong Baan Mai and Klong Rangsit Prayoonsak in Pathum Thani province before reaching Bang Pra In in Ayudhaya province. The project will improve the water drainage system, and the quality of living of people residing close to the dams, he said.

Govt mulls city transit splurge Bangkok Post 8th Apr 2019
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) has proposed Thailand invest in the construction of three mass transit routes worth 100 billion baht to ease congestion and accommodate growth in and around Bangkok. One of the routes is an electric train system valued at about 20 billion baht linking the capital with Suvarnabhumi airport in Samut Prakan, said Sarawut Songsiwilai, director of the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning. He said the proposed rail project, about 25km in length, is initially designed to run from Bang Na area to the airport. Connecting with the existing Green Line mass-transit system which now extends all the way to Samut Prakan, the proposed electric train route will also accommodate growth on the eastern side of Bangkok, he said. However, Mr Sarawut said transport authorities have yet to settle on a route as there are multiple possible routes to study. The project is likely to be included in a report to an upcoming meeting of the Land Traffic Management Commission chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak. The report focuses on the principles involved.

Travel & Tourism

Extension sought for second-tier perk Bangkok Post 17th Apr 2019
The government's initiative to extend tax breaks for tourism spending in second-tier provinces this year has been praised by tourism operators, who cite last year's success in increasing community income by 15-20%. The idea to extend the tax rebate for tourism spending in 55 less-popular provinces this year was floated last week at the meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, the Tourism and Sports Ministry and the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Representatives agreed to hold further talks with the Finance Ministry on the extension and raise the tax deduction to 30,000 baht, double last year's total of 15,000 baht. Thaweepong Wichaidit, director-general of the Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (Dasta), said the incentive is an effective measure to encourage people to visit small provinces and will boost income in rural areas. Last year, the tax rebate allowed travellers who spend on accommodation and food in these second-tier provinces to claim a tax deduction of 15,000 baht.

Cabinet approves new Suvarnabhumi airport runway Bangkok Post 17th Apr 2019
The cabinet has conditionally approved a plan to add a new runway at Suvarnabhumi airport to ease air traffic congestion at the main gateway to Thailand. Deputy government spokesman Werachon Sukondhapatipak said on Wednesday the project proposed by the Transport Ministry had received the green light from the government -- on the condition that it passes a environmental and health impact assessment by the National Environment Board. The cost of the planned third runway is estimated at 21 billion baht, including financial compensation for local residents who would be affected by the noise from planes taking off and landing. Suvarnabhumi has two runways, one to the east of the terminal building and the other to the west. Together, they can handle 63 flights per hour -- but capacity is halved if one has to be closed for maintenance. The new runway will be built parallel to the western runway. After construction is completed, the airport would be able to can service 94 flights every hour with all three runways in operation.

Thailand to unveil Asean tourism push The Nation 15th Apr 2019
As this year’s Asean chair, Thailand has listed up to 13 “economic deliverables”, most aiming to increase trade in commodities and boost the development of industry 4.0. However, the list includes a masterplan to boost the region’s export of services through tourism.  “Completing the gastronomical guidelines for the Asean region by the end of this year is part of our goal as Asean chair,” said Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general at the Commerce Ministry’s Department of Trade Negotiations (DTN). The drafting and approval processes for the guidelines will be done by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), with the final draft to be completed by the year-end.  The aim of the guidelines is to increase the connectivity and networking of the different tourism communities in the Asean region, with an emphasis on food quality, safety and hygiene, Auramon explained. For example, one of the routes in the guidelines is the “Asean Peranakan and Nature Trail”, which will cover multiple tourist areas from Penang and Langkawi in Malaysia to Satun, Krabi and Phuket in Thailand. 

Airports brace for Songkran surge Bangkok Post 12th Apr 2019
Authorities are bracing for overcrowding at major airports across the country during the Songkran festival as passenger traffic is expected to surge past last year's recorded figures. During the holiday period, airports will be filled with thousands of local and foreign travellers, and authorities are warning passengers that long queues at immigration checkpoints are "unavoidable". Airport officials estimated the number of international passengers will increase by more than 1.6 million, or 162,000 a day, between April 9 and 18. "That's a 6.98% rise from last year," said the deputy chief of Immigration Bureau's subdivision 2, Pol Col Choengron Rimphadi on Thursday, before adding this figure also means that the flight numbers will go up by about 7%. The "Wihok" -- literally, bird -- operation is currently underway until April 18, which is hoped to help expedite document inspection at immigration counters at airports, said Pol Col Choengron. During the operation, immigration officers have been ordered to speed up their work to ensure that international passengers will not have to wait for more than one hour during "rush hours", he said. However, he said, long queues are likely to persist at Suvarnabhumi airport, which is located east of Bangkok, as it is a major gateway for travellers flying in and out of Thailand.

Cashless bus fares off to good start Bangkok Post 10th Apr 2019
The cashless service on the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority's (BMTA) bus route 510 has received a good response from passengers, with 4,000 of them paying fares via cashless means on Tuesday. Normally, the route handles about 10,000 passengers a day on 38 buses, according to acting BMTA director, Prayoon Choygeo, who added that those wishing to still pay by cash can still do so for the time being. The new payment methods include using a card, which can be topped up via mobile banking, ATMs and at Krungthai Bank counters. Some passengers can opt to pay with debit or credit cards, QR code payment or use the government's welfare cards. However, all passengers will be encouraged to use cashless methods eventually, he said. The two-month trial period will be assessed before the cashless system is extended to other bus routes, he said.

Khon Kaen airport to add flights during Songkran Bangkok Post 8th Apr 2019
Khon Kaen airport will raise its daily number of domestic flights from 21 to 26 during Songkran and expects to welcome 2,500 passenger arrivals per day. Airport director Athaya Larpmak said on Monday that airlines have finalised their flight schedules for the holiday period, and the airport will serve 26 flights per day, or 52 landings and takeoffs. Currently, there are 21 flights to this northeastern province per day, or 42 landings and takeoffs. THAI Airways International, Thai AirAsia and THAI Smile Airways have all agreed to increase the number of domestic flights to Khon Kaen between April 9 and 17, said the airport director. THAI and Thai AirAsia have added the most flights, on the Don Mueang-Khon Kaen route. Passengers have also begun booking the additional flights on the Khon Kaen-Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen-Hat Yai, Khon Kaen-U Tapao and Khon Kaen-Phuket routes. He expected that at least 2,500 passengers per day would arrive at Khon Kaen airport during the holiday period.

TAT's Myanmar fair attracts companies Bangkok Post 8th Apr 2019
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) met with Yangon businesses and residents last week to raise awareness about tourism activities in Thailand, especially among first-time visitors. The three-day Amazing Thailand Travel Fair 2019 was organised last week in the heart of Yangon's business district with 25 tourism operators from Thailand and Myanmar joining the event. Income on the first day hit the target of 1 million baht. Hospital and wellness business, airlines, restaurants and tour operating companies were key partners for the event. Under a collaboration with Grab Taxi, the TAT will officially launch 50 Grab Taxi discounts to famous tourist destinations such as the Grand Palace, Koh Samet and Chiang Mai between April and June, expecting to lure about 1 million people from Myanmar travelling to Thailand. Sharing a border of 2,400 kilometres, border trade between the two countries helps drive economic growth for both, but high spending among tourists from Myanmar specifically has drawn the TAT's attention. The group reported that Myanmar tourists spend 50,000 baht per trip to Thailand, last year generating 16.7 billion baht in income from 368,170 visitors.

Ministry plans new rail route to Cambodia Bangkok Post 5th Apr 2019
The Transport Ministry is planning to open a new rail route to link Sa Kaeo's Aranyaprathet district with Cambodia to facilitate cross-border trade, and boost tourism around the eastern border of the country. Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said that the new rail route, which will be opened soon, will connect Aranyaprathet with Cambodia's Poi Pet, Sisophon and Battambang. Thailand will give a diesel-powered train to Cambodia as a symbolic gesture of cooperation between the two countries, Mr Arkhom said. The train will be unveiled at the opening of the new route. "The new route is expected to facilitate travel and logistics across the Thai-Cambodian border," Mr Arkhom said. "This will also boost economic cooperation between the two countries, which are part of the Greater Mekong Sub-region Southern Economic Corridor project that involves Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam." Worawut Mala, the acting governor of the State Railway of Thailand, said both governments will sign a draft agreement on joint work along the tracks on April 22, after the two sides have concluded talks on the matter.