Interview : Shamshad Akhtar

What impact do you anticipate Thailand’s next general election will have on levels of foreign direct investment (FDI) into the country?

SHAMSHAD AKHTAR: Thailand has traditionally been an attractive investment destination, and that will not change. It is strategically located between South-east Asia and China, and has access to the ASEAN Free Trade Area, in addition to strong investment promotion agencies, such as the Board of Investment.

Thailand is also embracing innovation, creativity and digitalisation under the Thailand 4.0 programme, including the development of the Eastern Economic Corridor. Although FDI inflows dropped in 2016, Thailand jumped up two spots to rank 19th on the 2017 AT Kearney FDI Confidence Index, demonstrating that investor confidence in Thailand is increasing.

The challenge is ensuring that FDI contributes to sustainable development. We also need to ensure that the quality of human resources is up to the standards of foreign investors. Foreign investors expect Thailand to maintain political stability after the election and to address the risk of floods, which is expected to worsen as a result of climate change. This could severely affect business operations, particularly in special economic and industrial zones located in flood-prone areas.

In what ways can Thailand adequately prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

AKHTAR: We must be honest with ourselves: we don’t know how the Fourth Industrial Revolution will impact jobs. Studies on that area are both ubiquitous and conflicting. The World Bank predicted that two-thirds of all jobs in the developing world are susceptible to automation, compared to McKinsey’s estimation of 50%. Many studies also point out that what is technically feasible is not always economically viable, so the impact on jobs over the short to medium term will be minimal.

Although it is too early for us to say with confidence, there are certain policy areas and directions that we should advocate. First, an adaptive and demand-driven workforce needs to be developed. Some directions to consider include: a greater emphasis on entrepreneurship training, job seekers, adult education and lifelong learning. Second, as the primary investor in frontier technologies, the private sector should take responsibility for the well-being of their workforce during technological transitions, a move that could be supported by government incentives.

To empower women’s advancement in society and the economy, where would you like to see more engagement from policymakers?

AKHTAR: Thailand has made significant progress towards gender equality, especially in regard to promoting the education of girls at all levels and improving health care for women. However, obstacles to achieving the full and effective participation of women in society and the economy remain. There are 82 women employed for every 100 men, and a woman makes 76% of the salary a man does for doing the same work.

Although an estimated 64% of firms have women in ownership positions, a large proportion of female entrepreneurs remain concentrated in the small and micro-levels of the informal sector, where there is limited growth potential and decent work opportunities. In addition, the proportion of women in Parliament is critically low at 4.8%, with even lower figures at the provincial, municipal and village levels.

Concerted efforts in inclusion and sustainable development are required to close the gender gap. Such measures include fostering the macroeconomic environment for the creation of and access to jobs, as well as harnessing technological innovations to improve the financial and digital inclusion of women and girls.

The implementation of policies and programmes is essential to shaping gender equality perspectives in the workplace. Such initiatives will provide female employees with social protection as well as income security.