Japan yesterday agreed to promote trade and investment in ethanol and biofuels under the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement.
Japan to increase imports of Thai ethanol
Recent Trade Reforms in Thailand
Economists and analysts forecast gloomier times, predicting Thailand’s GDP to contract by 0-3 percent while the country descends into a deflationary spiral. Moody’s Economy.com says Thailand could be the Asian economy that suffers the most from the global financial crisis. Plus the spectre of further political unrest remains on the horizon. However, there are some signs that Thailand can ride out the economic firestorm. Government debt-to-GDP remains below average regionally speaking, the financial sector learnt from the 1997 meltdown and remains relatively well capitalised and liquid, and Board of Investment privileges are some of the best in Southeast Asia.
Infrastructure services, if quickly improved, could promote a better investment climate in Thailand. Logistic costs, for example, are reported by firms to be higher for them in 2007 compared to 2004. This is particularly true for industries that are located in regions other than Bangkok and vicinity or the East where the major markets and ports are located. They include the food processing and furniture industries. A partial explanation for the higher logistic cost was the sharp rise in diesel prices from 2004 to 2007. However, another important explanation is the increased congestion of roads and ports which added to the transport time and costs. The quality of public utility services (electricity, water, and telephone) have also declined from 2004 to 2007 as the period of service interruptions have risen. This is a reflection of the inadequacy of infrastructure services as demand from businesses have increased rapidly over the years. These service interruptions are costly for firms and will hurt Thailand’s competitiveness as other countries in the region such as China and Vietnam are quickly improving them.
Implementation of Reforms in Thailand
Imports from new ASEAN member countries also have lower import duties. As part of ASEAN Integration System of Preferences (AISP), tariffs of products such as vinegar, chili, certain vegetables, wood products, and electronic switchboards imported from Cambodia, Myanmar and Lao PDR are either reduced or abolished from September 2008.
The government also uses tariff measures as a tool to promote energy policy. To encourage the use of natural gas as an alternative fuel for vehicles, the government has exempted import duties of many natural gas-related tools and equipment such as bio-fuel conversion kits, natural gas containers, and chasses.
Externally, the trade balance in January 2009 recorded a 1,688 million US dollar surplus. Export value contracted for the third consecutive month while import fell even more rapidly. Export value dropped 25.3 percent (yoy) to 10,382 million US dollars. This was due mainly to contraction across the board except for labour-intensive industries which still expanded from gold export. Import value contracted 36.5 percent (yoy) across the board to 8,694 million US dollars. When accounting for the net services, income, and transfers surplus of 601 million US dollars from lower investment income transfer compared to the previous month, the current account balance registered a 2,289 million US dollar surplus.
External stability in Thailand was upheld by high international reserves, while trade and current account were close to balance. Regarding internal stability, inflation rose from last year in line with higher oil prices, despite a downward trend during the second half of the year. Unemployment rate remained low in Thailand in 2008 but employment started to deteriorate in the forth quarter, particularly in the production sector affected by economic slowdown.