Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thuagsuban on Tuesday voiced concern about the red shirts to march from Sanam Luang and hold the mass rally at Government House on Friday.
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Suthep worrying for red-shirt rally
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.
Thailand is among the region’s more open economies, with exports accounting for around 65% of gross domestic product (GDP)
Concerns are already rising that big foreign manufacturers, faced with financial problems in their home countries and declining regional demand for their products, could permanently shutter their Thailand-based facilities. Those worries intensified earlier this month when Japanese automotive and motorcycle producer Suzuki announced plans to close its Thailand operations. Ailing US auto giant General Motors’ local affiliate also raised eyebrows when it requested and was declined a 3 billion baht loan from Thailand’s Ministry of Industry for a diesel engine project.
Thailand’s banks and finance companies were at the heart of the country’s 1997 collapse
New Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government has responded to the crisis with vigorous fiscal pump priming, including direct cash injections into the grass roots economy. With public debt at 23% of GDP, international reserves at US$110 billion, and 2008 balanced budget, the government arguably has plenty of fiscal room to maneuver.
In January the Cabinet approved a 117 billion baht supplementary budget, which included various measures aimed at buoying the economy, including cash 2,000 baht handouts to nine million civil servants and workers nationwide, job creation programs and community investment funds.
It represents one of few times in recent years that fiscal and monetary policies have been complementarily calibrated. A grinding political conflict, pitting supporters and detractors of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a 2006 military coup, has hobbled successive governments’ ability to devise and implement effective economic policies.
The debilitating conflict climaxed last November when military-linked anti-government protestors closed Bangkok’s two international airports for over a week, crippling the money-spinning tourism and air freight dependent export sectors. The Bank of Thailand has estimated the closure cost the Thai economy as much as 290 billion baht, with hotels estimated to have lost 140 billion baht due to cancellations.
Indeed grass roots competition for government resources is intensifying. For instance the Farmers Rehabilitation and Development Fund is seeking 17.2 billion baht from the cabinet to buy back debts owned by over 62,000 farmers and rehabilitation and occupational training programs. During the 1997-98 financial crisis, a large number of unemployed factory and service sector workers returned to the rural countryside to eke out a subsistence living working in their relations’ fields. Agriculture currently accounts for 11% of GDP.
Higher agricultural prices drove up farm incomes during the first half of 2008, but fell sharply in the second half in line with declining global commodity prices. As the local economy slows and unemployment rates rise, it’s not clear that the rural sector will with falling food prices have the same absorptive capacity it did in the wake of the Asian financial crisis.