Royal celebration

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 December, 2011, 12:00am


The people of Thailand will have a chance to put aside recent worries today when they celebrate the birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest-reigning monarch, who came to the throne in 1946.

It will be an occasion to forget for a while the effect of the floods that hit parts of the country earlier this year, and think instead of all the positives that continue to make Thailand one of Southeast Asia's strongest economies and a magnet for trade, tourism and foreign investment.

The attraction stems from the sense of social and political stability, exemplified by reverence for the Thai monarchy and widespread adherence to the teachings of Buddhism. It also relates to an interest in the kingdom's cultural diversity, scenic splendours, and tropical coastlines. For the international business person, the lure might be the opportunities offered by an open economy, where government agencies have tried to reduce restrictive red tape.

The Royal Thai Consulate-General in Hong Kong notes that the country's close to 67 million people enjoy the benefits of steady growth, strong exports and a vibrant domestic consumer market. Last year, gross domestic product hit US$317 billion, growing at a rate of 7.8 per cent. This year, GDP growth of 3.5-4.5 per cent is projected.

Underpinning this are abundant natural resources and a skilled, cost-efficient workforce. The country is one of the world's top producers of rubber, rice and sugar, as well as of hard disk drives, polymers and cars.

Thailand has the infrastructure and technology needed to support 21st century business. Airports and other transportation facilities are regularly upgraded, while telecommunications and IT networks keep pace with developments around the world. Industrial estates provide high-level amenities and appropriate support services for multinationals, smaller enterprises and start-ups.

Thailand's investment policies encourage free trade. Foreign investments, especially those that contribute to the development of skills, technology and innovation, are actively promoted.

The country consistently ranks among the most attractive locations for inward investment. The World Bank's 2010 report on the 'Ease of Doing Business' ranked Thailand 12th according to that measure, prompted by the tax incentives, duty exemptions, and support services made available for specific sectors.

The Board of Investment oversees a one-stop service centre to facilitate visas and work permits for foreign nationals. It also administers an investment centre with streamlined procedures, bringing together representatives from about 20 government agencies under one roof.

Thailand's investment regime is in compliance with World Trade Organisation regulations. In the manufacturing sector, companies receiving investment promotion privileges are not subject to foreign equity restrictions, and there are no local content or export requirements. The government targets overseas investment in six sectors: agriculture and agro-industry; alternative energy; automotive; electronics, IT and telecommunications; fashion; and value-added services including health care and tourism.

With close to 17 million foreign tourists visiting Thailand last year, and a further 12.8 million plus in the first eight months of this year, the country's reputation for golden beaches, cultural sights, hill treks and adventure holidays has been long established. Such attractions, though, never lose their appeal. Visitors will continue to enjoy the diversity of a natural and cultural heritage that offers everything from the temples and palaces of Bangkok to the pristine beaches and luxury resorts in the south, and the festivals and quiet getaways towards Chiang Mai and further north.

A new dimension is the emergence of medical tourism, thanks to modern facilities and internationally certified doctors and medical staff. Medical tourism is a fast-rising sector, and patients are visiting from overseas to take advantage of Thailand's world-class, affordable health-care system. Hong Kong residents are making the most of these facilities and attractions.

Trade relations between Hong Kong and Thailand continue to go from strength to strength, with total trade seeing a 33.3 per cent increase last year compared to figures for 2009.

For the past three years, Hong Kong has been Thailand's fourth largest export destination, with the top items including precious stones, integrated circuits and plastics. Major trade goods moving in the opposite direction include gold and jewellery, computers, fabrics and textiles.

Hong Kong remains a significant investor. This is seen not just in 'traditional' sectors such as textiles, chemicals, electronics and financial services, but also in the newer types of industry that will define the future of the region. As strategic partners and with Thailand as low-cost production base, there is an opportunity for Hong Kong investors to distribute to Asean countries representing a combined market of about 600 million people.