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Thai economy shrinks most in more than two decades

Thailand’s economy should contract between 8% to 12% this year given its reliance on exports and tourism and the strong baht, which gained more than 6% in the second quarter.

Olivier Languepin

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Thailand’s GDP shrank 12.2% from a year ago, the National Economic and Social Development Council said Monday, its biggest decline in more than 20 years since the country was hit by the Asian financial crisis in 1998.

The outlook for Thailand’s economy this year is the most dire in Asia given its reliance on exports and tourism, and worsened by the strong baht, which gained more than 6% in the the April-June quarter, the second-best performing currency in Asia tracked by Bloomberg.

The data reflect the fact that the economy was shut for part of the second quarter, and borders remain closed to most foreigners.

While Thailand has been successful in stemming the tide of COVID-19 infections over the last three months, the economic impact has been severe. The tourism sector, which makes up close to 15 percent of Thailand’s GDP, has been hit hard, with a near cessation of international tourist arrivals since March 2020.

The ban on international commercial flights will remain while the Covid-19 pandemic situation remains critical in many countries, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) said last week.

Thailand allows no ordinary tourist entry at the moment, while no travel bubble programmes with other countries have been implemented yet.

“We are concerned about the economy, especially employment, bad debts” and small and medium enterprises, said Thosaporn Sirisumphand, secretary general of the economic council.

The NESDC cut its full-year forecast to a 7.3%-7.8% contraction, from an earlier estimate of a 5%-6% fall.

Thailand’s GDP is forecast to contract 8-10% this year, before recovering to 4-5% growth in 2021. Real GDP is not expected to reach its pre-Covid level until 2023, according to the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), a Bangkok-based independent think tank. 

But the Center for Economic and Business Forecasting (CEBF) of the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC) has predicted that the Thai GDP this year will shrink between 9.4 to 11.4 percent due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The coronavirus outbreak has already cost the Thai economy Bt2.1 trillion, which could rise to Bt3 trillion if the economy does not recover in the second half of the year, said Thanawat Polvichai, rector at UTCC.

Anti-government protests, mainly by young people, are starting to gain momentum and add to uncertainty, as more than 10,000 people rallied in Bangkok on Sunday.

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