Interview : Kalin Sarasin, Chairman
How can further policy reforms and incentives encourage private investment?
KALIN SARASIN: Thailand 4.0 has contributed to improving the ease of doing business, and the reform plan has been tackling the many factors previously obstructing businesses. As a result, we now rank 26th on the World Bank’s “Doing Business Report 2018”, which is an increase of 20 ranks compared to 2017.
In the near future, starting a business will begin online through e-registration and e-filing. The lead time for construction permits has been reduced to 10 days for non-large projects, with trading across borders being facilitated through the Thailand National Single Window, the ASEAN Single Window and e-Matching. Thailand is working to attract investment to the country, especially within the EEC. The government must continue to do everything possible to make the investment climate less precarious.
Which sectors are most in need of foreign partnerships and knowledge transfer?
KALIN: Thailand 4.0 is the underlying concept for triggering development, and the EEC is the project that should bring the bulk of investment. The ultimate goal is to move our economy away from the middle-income trap. In order for Thailand to transform itself into a high-tech economy, strategic alliances and foreign direct investment are needed. The key challenge is linking multinational innovators with local firms. With the government actively promoting 11 targeted industries, local firms must be open to strategic partnerships in all sectors.
The government can only do so much; the private sector must be equally active in seeking alliances. Given our country’s strategic location in South-east Asia, our businesses must focus on developing our aerospace and transportation, biofuel and biochemicals, and medical and food sectors. For instance, Thailand is excellent in medical services, but it is time to upgrade our capabilities, pushing the country to become a regional medical hub. To do this, we need foreign expertise. However, current labour legislation hampers the exchange of skilled workers, despite the Board of Investment’s labour schemes. Our ministries must solve this issue as Thailand is entering an ageing society bracket, and our soft and hard infrastructure must be developed to serve our seniors.
Thailand 4.0 has many components, the most important being education and innovation. Now, our government is focusing on both fields, and is restructuring education, especially technical and vocational training, to serve high demand for labour in the EEC. More private firms are also working with the government on the Partnership School Programme.
To what extent will tourism destinations provide opportunities for foreign investors?
KALIN: In 2017 Thailand attracted 35.3m visitors, with arrivals increasing by 14% in the first quarter of 2018. Chinese tourists represented one-third of foreign arrivals, and the remainder came from ASEAN, the US and elsewhere. There are many repeat travellers and we must increase this number. In our market, tourism will be boosted by the EEC and various governmental schemes. Having companies work together in quality assurance is important, and new industries can be created from the medical and affluent tourism segments. Moving forward, the EEC will continue to promote higher-value tourism. Pattaya will be promoted as a “B-Leisure” destination, embracing both business and leisure attractions. There are key developments for which we will invite companies to join public-private partnerships, including cruise terminals, a pier, tramways, and meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) projects. Pattaya is set to become a MICE city, secondary after Bangkok. Once Pattaya is established, the MICE industry will be promoted in the northern provinces and throughout Thailand.
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