I am pleased and very honoured to be here at the Fifth ASEAN Bloomberg Summit, to deliver a speech on “The Future of Thailand and ASEAN.”
The Fifth Bloomberg ASEAN Business Summit is timely and extremely important for both ASEAN and Thailand, as Thailand has assumed the Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2019 and will host the 34th ASEAN Summit at the end of this week.
Vision for Thailand
Thailand has potential and stands ready to drive forward development in many areas, together with the region. We have been able to overcome challenges to our political situation, and resolved chronic problems which have impeded economic and social development, such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, or IUU, and human trafficking, in addition to facilitating the business sector.
What is very important for the Thai people is the organization of general elections, as per the democratic process and Thailand’s Roadmap in March 2019, which has enabled Thailand to move forward. I am most thankful for the trust that Thai citizens have put in me to continue to serve as Prime Minister. I will carry out my duties to the best of my ability to continue implementing the country’s development policies, both in the short-term and long-term.
Economic indicators for Thailand in 2018 demonstrate that the economy has improved significantly, with a growth rate of 4.1 per cent, the highest in six years. The value of exports amounted to 2.53 hundred billion US dollars, the highest in history. Overall investment increased by 3.8 per cent, which is the highest rate in the past six years. With regard to the tourism industry, there has been steady growth. In 2018, 38 million foreign tourists visited Thailand — an increase of 2.9 million people from the previous year. This year, we expect 40 million foreign visitors, which will be another important source of national income.
In addition, Thailand’s international affairs are stable and strong. This is reflected in the continued current account surplus, as well as our high rate of international reserves, which ranks 12th in the world.
At the same time, the Thai Government gives importance to facilitating and streamlining the process for approving investment proposals, including business regulations, with a view to elevating Thailand’s overall competitiveness. We are therefore very pleased that the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2018 report ranked Thailand 27th out of 190 countries, and third in ASEAN.
The Government seeks to promote Thailand’s sustainable economic development, at a time when technological advancements are affecting business and national growth. For this reason, Thailand has to strengthen our economic fundamentals to enhance and upgrade existing industries and facilitate innovative industries, in line with our objective to become the economic corridor of Asia. In the first phase, we have accelerated the development of the Eastern Economic Corridor or EEC to become a hub that connects the manufacturing sector, trade, and investment in the region. The aim is to increase the effectiveness of Thai industries and entrepreneurs in accessing the global value chain, and to adapt this development model to other areas of Thailand.
To ensure the continuity of development policies, Thailand has adopted the “20-Year National Strategy” as a framework to lead Thailand towards being “a secure nation with happy citizens, steady economic growth, social justice, and sustainable use of natural resources.” This is Thailand’s long-term objective, and various agencies have drawn up implementation plans that work in tandem with their policies, so measures taken will achieve concrete results under a shared goal.
Sufficiency Economy Philosophy
However, we must admit that although the number of Thais in poverty has steadily declined from 57.07 per cent of the total population in 1990 to 7.87 per cent in 2017, Thailand is still confronted with the problem of economic and social inequality. Thailand is also facing environmental degradation, which is why we give importance to sustainable and holistic development.
The Financial Crisis in 1997 was another important turning point that made Thailand realise that dependence on the global economy, without nurturing inner strength and immunity to external shocks, will render Thailand vulnerable. As a result, Thailand came to understand, and to apply the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy, or SEP, which has the principle of self-sufficiency, moderation and reasonableness at its core.
It is my intention to see a Thailand that radiates strength from within, supported by solid economic fundamentals from the grassroots level. The Thai private sector and ASEAN are our strengths in reducing the development gap and generating real growth from the grassroots level, by distributing growth to people with low income and SMEs, as well as connecting them to the global value chain. The Sufficiency Economy Philosophy is an important tool in creating sustainable development, and strengthening resilience against external challenges. Moreover, it is also applicable to inclusive growth in the ASEAN context Vision on ASEAN and the Region
At present, the world is confronted by multi-faceted challenges and sudden disruptions. There are uncertainties in the global economy and world trade, as well as competition to establish foothold and seize economic opportunities in the region. The trade conflict between major powers, has affected the global trade and investment climate, and may lead to an eventual trade war. In addition, we are faced with challenges from the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), which includes disruptive technology and innovation, that have affected the global economy including people from all walks of life.
I am confident that Thailand and ASEAN are capable of coping with these challenges, and that we are able to act as a stable platform for trade and investment and be the solution that caters to the needs of investors worldwide. In addition, we would maintain ASEAN centrality in the regional architecture amidst major power competition in the region.
ASEAN is the sixth largest market in the world, with a population of more than 650 million people, a rich bio-diversity, and a strategic location. ASEAN thus has potential to become the fourth largest economic bloc in the world by 2030, increasing the region’s leverage. In 2017, ASEAN’s GDP was valued at 2.8 trillion US dollars; the average economic growth rate in ASEAN was 5.3 per cent; foreign investment was valued at 1.37 hundred billion US dollars, which is an increase of 11.6 per cent; and 125.5 million tourists visited the region, with Thailand as one of the top destinations.
Moreover, ASEAN has its own mechanisms on economic cooperation which work to synchronize diverse strengths in the region, such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, between the ten ASEAN Member States and six Dialogue Partners (China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand). We expect to conclude RCEP within this year. It will be an economic grouping that has the highest value in the world. Its combined GDP is worth one third of the global GDP, which will enable ASEAN to generate further economic growth in the region. In addition, many members of RCEP are also part of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for TransPacific Partnership (CPTPP), which will help to elevate standards in regional economic cooperation and to develop the value chain. The CPTPP may also provide an opportunity for other countries, such as Thailand, to join and thereby further expand the framework for cooperation.
All of these developments reflect ASEAN’s strong fundamentals.Despite the fact that many ASEAN Member States have general elections this year which may lead to changes in domestic politics, the commitment to support ASEAN in moving forward remains the same. This is because ASEAN Member States, including Thailand, are fully aware that a strong ASEAN is our common national interest.
Thailand as Chair of ASEAN
This year, Thailand has assumed the Chairmanship for ASEAN under the theme “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability.” Thailand will strengthen sustainability in all dimensions through cooperation and close partnerships with our friends, as well as the international community. As the Chair of ASEAN, Thailand perceives the necessity for ASEAN to have a vision that is more futureoriented, and an ASEAN Community that is more connected internally and externally with other countries in the region, to become a seamless ASEAN. We also wish to drive forward an ASEAN Community that is people-centred with social equality, respect for diversity, and that leaves no one behind.
Thailand is committed to ensuring ASEAN’s success and propelling three main strategies in 2019. This includes (1) being future-oriented, which means being prepared for the 4th Industrial Revolution; (2) promoting connectivity in trade, investment, tourism, and electronic systems through a single ASEAN Window for all ten ASEAN Member States; and (3) promoting “Sustainability of Things,” or sustainability in all dimensions, to promote the grassroots economy and improve the quality of lives for the people. For this reason, we are pushing for ASEAN to link cooperation between micro, small, and medium enterprises, and adopt an integrated system for financial transactions in local currencies. Most recently, ASEAN approved the Roadmap for ASEAN Sustainable Capital Markets to promote capital markets’ financial sustainability.
In terms of digital development, Thailand recently adopted a Cybersecurity Act, which came into force in May 2019. In addition, we have agencies and institutes that oversee comprehensive digital growth, and are in the process of developing infrastructure and platforms, whether it is 5G, Big Data, or TeleHealth, making healthcare services more accessible to local communities. This will help Thailand prepare for the era of digital trade and new, innovative forms of production in the region.
In addition to digital development, Thailand supports the concept of Digital and Green ASEAN. ASEAN itself has launched the ASEAN Catalytic Green Finance Facility under the ASEAN Infrastructure Fund, to mobilise capital for the development of environmentally friendly infrastructure in ASEAN. It has also drawn up a new ASEAN Digital Masterplan 2025 to cope with digital challenges in the future. This includes cyber security, human resource and skill development, laws governing digital infrastructure, smart cities, and promotion of sustainable fisheries in the region, with a view to promote inclusive and sustainable development.
After the 34th ASEAN Summit, Thailand will participate in the G20 Osaka Summit 2019 in Japan in our capacity as the Chair of ASEAN. We will emphasise our main principle in supporting economic and social growth that is free, open, comprehensive, sustainable, and leaves no one behind, in accordance to the theme of Thailand’s Chairmanship of ASEAN to “Advance Partnership for Sustainability” with our friends beyond ASEAN.
Thailand is prepared in terms of political stability, policy continuation, and strong economic fundamentals. The new Government stands ready to carry forward the policies set forth by the current administration.
The private sector can have confidence in Thailand and seize every opportunity from Thailand and ASEAN’s readiness to expand business ventures. Thailand is prepared to collaborate with partners from both the public and private sector from within and outside the region, based on the principle of 3Ms. That is, mutual trust, mutual respect, and mutual benefit.
I wish that the meeting today will be successful in all of its objectives