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Foreign businesses keep watchful eye

Nandor von der Luehe, chairman of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand (JFCCT), said the economy had performed well in recent years as exports had not been affected by domestic political strife.

While political reconciliation has not been achieved, the election could bring it a step forward.

“I think it is difficult [for reconciliation] as Thais are widely divided,” said Mr von der Luehe. “It is important that the results of the election and the new government are accepted by all sides so that things can move forward.”

He said the Democrat-led administration had listened to the concerns of foreign business communities, who expect the new government will continue to be receptive.

Amendments to the Foreign Business Act, especially opening up the service sector, will increase Thailand’s attractiveness in the eyes of foreign investors.

When the Asean Economic Community is established in 2015, Thailand should be able to maintain its leading position in the region, said Mr Von der Luehe.

But Thailand could do more to make it easier to do business, he noted. In the World Bank’s “Doing Business 2011” index, Thailand’s ranking slipped to 19th from 16th in the previous survey.

Nonetheless, the kingdom still outperformed all regional peers except Singapore and Hong Kong. Malaysia, for example, placed 21st (up from 23rd), Vietnam 77th (up from 88th) and Indonesia 121st (down from 115th).

Mr von der Luehe and other foreign chamber members also want corruption in Thailand to be tackled.

“I expect that after the election, they will try to improve corruption problems,” said David Bak, vice-president of the Korean-Thai Chamber of Commerce, adding that corruption remains a problem in areas such as customs.

“Foreign investors want all government agencies to make regulations more clear,” he said.

Populist policies should be eliminated because they do not generate long-term benefits for the country, he said.

Deepak Mittal, director of Thai Carbon Black and a former executive of the JFCCT and the India-Thai Chamber of Commerce, disagrees with the state subsidy scheme, which he describes as just good for the short term.

“Subsidy cannot go on for the long run because ultimately price will be decided by supply and demand in the market,” he said.

In India, for instance, the government recently raised the petrol price to 67 rupees (45 baht) a litre as global prices remain high.

He applauded the Abhisit Vejjajiva government for creating a supportive environment for business.

“It’s not any specific action but overall economic policies that are supportive for business to export and invest here by taking care when they have a problem,” he said. “Of course, as a businessman, I think the exchange rate should be weaker, but it would affect capital inflows and cause other problems to the economy.”

Mr Mittal also called on the new government to lower corporate income tax from 30%, which is higher than other countries in the region. Vietnam, for example, has a rate of only 25%.

“This is an important factor for foreign investors to decide whether to invest in Thailand or in neighbouring countries,” he said.

David Nardone, president and chief executive of the industrial estate company Hemaraj Land and Development, said investors expected the new government to continue with policies to promote industrial clusters.

He would like to see more free trade agreements, while restructuring should provide a platform for high-tech cars such as hybrids and electric vehicles to be developed in Thailand.

Along with infrastructure development, the supply of vocational workers should be increased to serve demand from the industrial sector, Mr Nardone said.

Source: Bangkok Post

ThaiVest Editorial Team