HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]: 

Business sector points to marginal slowdown in growth rate

Commercial banks resume services in southern provinces

MOE downplays concern over sharp rise in capped fuel prices

Phuket gets tough on wastewater release

Naraiphand handicraft center selected as OTOP distribution outlet

Commerce Ministry rolls out mobile business advice units

Thailand sets up new Business Council with 6 South Asian nations

Foreign workers get nod for legal registration

Business sector points to marginal slowdown in growth rate

Government forecasts of runaway economic growth this year were recently tempered by the publication of a survey of business owners pointing to expectations a slight drop in the rate of economic expansion. The second quarter survey of the Bank of Thailand (BOT) of 109 business owners found that most felt that the economy would continue to witness favorable growth this year, but that the rate of expansion might be marginally down on last year.

The respondents attributed this to a slight slowdown in the growth of consumption and export of some items due to the extremely high base situation in 2003. They also voiced fears that the unrest in the southern border region could have an impact on tourism revenue.

On a more positive note, the respondents dismissed suggestions that Thailand could be entering into a period of another economic bubble. They also pointed to a rise in investment and exports in a number of sectors, particularly production, construction, and transportation, in response to the continuous rise in demand at home and abroad.

In terms of exports, according to the respondents, rubber, electronic goods, furniture, steel and aluminum products are continuing to do well as demand has risen in Japan, China, and the United States. However, they also observed that the growth rate for goods such as automobiles, property and cellular phones was likely to fall off.

The food industry, meanwhile, has reached a growth plateau although companies are continuing to construct new production plants.

On the international front, Thailand is experiencing fierce competition, both in terms of trade barriers and the liberalization of trade and investment. (TNA)

Commercial banks resume services in southern provinces

Two major commercial banks, Bangkok Bank Public Company Limited and Krung Thai Bank Public Company Limited have resumed their services in Yala, Songkhla, and Pattani following a closure due to fears of the violence in the provinces, according to a TV news report. However, the two banks will shorten their office hours by one hour daily for a certain period of time.

Bangkok Bank has resumed its banking services at its Sabayoi Branch in Songkhla; while Krung Thai Bank had resumed its services at its branches in Yala, and Pattani.

The two commercial banks closed their branches in the provinces on April 28 when the latest violence took place, leading to hours of heavy clashes between local police and military officers and insurgents.

The Bank of Thailand (BOT) has allowed executives of local banks to consider operating their services in unusual circumstances, with local conditions to be taken into account. (TNA)

MOE downplays concern over sharp rise in capped fuel prices

The Ministry of Energy (MOE) recently downplayed concerns of a sharp increase in the capped prices of gasoline by 80 satang per liter. Energy Minister Prommin Lertsuridej said he had not yet made a final decision on the mater and was monitoring fuel prices in the world market to see a clear direction before making any decision.

He conceded prices of crude and retail oil had significantly risen, but said that the price capping measure was still needed because it could help contain higher inflation rates.

Dr Prommin said the joint working committee comprising representatives from the Energy, Commerce, Finance, and Transport Ministries as well as the National Economic and Social Development Board would meet on April 30 to decide whether the capped price of gasoline should be adjusted upward or not.

Kiatipong Noichaiboon, vice chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, said the adjustment of the capped prices would have a certain impact on transportation costs of entrepreneurs. But it would not have enough effect to justify the product price increase. He said the price adjustment, if made on gasoline only, would have little impact on the transportation costs. Still, should the adjustment be made on diesel oil prices, it might fuel the product price rise.

However, a source at the ministry said the question on whether the capped fuel prices would be adjusted upward would be settled by the beginning of May and it was likely the government would gradually increase the capped prices by 30-50 satang per liter. (TNA)

Phuket gets tough on wastewater release

Officials in the southern resort island of Phuket insist that they are taking tough measures to prevent the illegal release of wastewater into the sea, following a barrage of complaints concerning hotels and factories.

Admitting that the provincial authorities had received several complaints concerning the unauthorized release of untreated wastewater and sewage, Phuket provincial clerk Wissawa Sasisamit conceded that one of the problems stemmed from hotels which were springing up without planning permission. The latest incident involved complaints concerning a hotel said to be releasing untreated sewage into the sea near the Trai Trang Beach.

However, inspections by local officials found that the hotel had adequate sewage treatment systems, prompting the inspectors to speculate that the wastewater had come from a location above the hotel.

Wissawa took pains to stress that the province had stringent regulations against the release of untreated wastewater into the sea.

Last month, tourists to the island were alarmed by the presence of green algae covering some of the province’s beaches, a phenomenon apparently caused by untreated sewage. (TNA)

Naraiphand handicraft center selected as OTOP distribution outlet

Naraiphand, a prominent handicraft center and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha were selected as distribution outlets for local goods under One Tambon One Product (OTOP) scheme, according to Finance Minister Somkid Chatusripitak.

Somkid who also chairs the National OTOP Administrative Committee (NOAC) said that the Industry and Commerce Ministries mutually agreed to use the whole area of Naraiphand as a distribution center for OTOP products. “Naraiphand is situated in a very good location in the heart of the city and also near major tourist attractions. The place will also be an overseas trading center,” he said.

The areas inside the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok and in front of the Export Promotion Office in the northern province of Chiang Mai were selected to be OTOP distribution centers so that it would be convenient for tourists to buy the products, the Finance Minister said.

OTOP is a government project to generate income to local communities nationwide by developing and marketing products made in each community from local materials, such as handicrafts, textiles, clothes, jewelry, furniture, decorative items, food and beverages. OTOP Business Promotion Office will also be established as an independent organization to oversee the whole process of OTOP production, marketing and distributing, Somkid added. (TNA)

Commerce Ministry rolls out mobile business advice units

A senior ministry official recently announced that The Ministry of Commerce has set up mobile business advice units offering a one-stop consultation service for conducting business at home and abroad.

Karun Kittsathaporn, permanent secretary for commerce explained that the units would give advice on electronic commerce and general business information, as well as help publicize the ministry’s activities. The units will remain in each location for five days, with three trips within Bangkok and five trips around the country.

In Bangkok, businesspeople and members of the public will be able to visit the units on 11-17 May at Central Pinklao department store, on 22-26 May at Central Bang Na, and on 10-16 June at Central Rama III.

The units will then take to the provinces, traveling to Songkhla on 30 June-4 July, Chiang Mai on 14-18 July, Nakhon Ratchasima on 6-11 August, Chonburi on 20-24 August and Udon Thani on 3-7 September. (TNA)

Thailand sets up new Business Council with 6 South Asian nations

The Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) is joining hands with six South Asian nations to establish a joint Thai-South Asian Business Council in order to boost bilateral investment and tap into South Asia’s massive consumer market.

Announcing the move on April 28, FTI president Praphat Bodhivorakhun said that the new 7-member business council would serve to promote trade and investment between Thailand and South Asia. The seven members are Bangladesh, India, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Prapat explained the FTI’s decision by pointing to South Asia’s huge population of over 1.4 billion, high purchasing power, favorable investment opportunities and abundance of raw materials for use in industry.

The first meeting of the Business Council will be attended by businesspeople and diplomats from all seven members, and will focus on the direction that cooperative dealings will take. (TNA)

Foreign workers get nod for legal registration

Illegal immigrants from Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar will be able to register as legal workers under a new government scheme, according to the announcement made last week by Labor Minister Uraiwan Thienthong.

Uraiwan said that the Labor Ministry scheme had now received the nod of approval from the Cabinet, paving the way for the official registration of illegal immigrant workers.

Under the first phase of the scheme, the Interior Ministry will be responsible for the registration of foreign workers and their families from 15 June to 15 September this year.

The scheme will provide an affective amnesty for illegal workers, who will be issued with 13-digit identification cards. However, while no legal action will be taken against them, they will be regarded as illegal immigrants for a further year following registration.

Under the second phase of the scheme, the Labor Ministry will draw up systems for the employment of foreign labor. The registered workers will be permitted to work in six sectors: crop farming, fisheries and related activities, livestock farm hands, general laborers, factories and household servants. (TNA)