Thailand aims to lead the ASEAN Economic Community, particularly in food production

Thailand's new deputy premier and commerce minister, Kittirat Na Ranong, said the country will adopt pro-active foreign and economic policies to become a leader of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) which will be effective in 2015. Addressing the Thailand Chamber of Commerce (TCC), the minister said the government will particularly promote Thailand as ASEAN's food production centre because the country is now one of the world's six largest food producers.

The government is drafting a roadmap to attract foreign investment ahead of ASEAN integration, while ensuring that the country's exports continue to grow at a rate of no less than 20%. With intra-ASEAN shipments now accounting for more than half of the country's exports, the US and European markets have become relatively less important.

The TCC said Thai companies, especially SMEs, need to quickly prepare for the ASEAN integration. Thailand currently has 2.9 million small and medium-sized enterprises, accounting for 99.6% of the country's total business enterprises. SMEs employ more than 10.5 million workers, accounting for 77.8% of the total workforce. The sector generates Bt3.75 trillion or 37.1% of the country's GDP.

To tap business opportunities in the 10-country ASEAN market, Pakon Partanapat, execuive vice president of Kasikorn Bank, said Thai SMEs should focus on the neighbouring CLBV countries - Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Vietnam.

The six original ASEAN members, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Brunei have already reduced more than 90% of their import tariffs to zero to create a single market and production base. According to The Nation, the CLBV countries will also join the AEC in 2015 although they will delay reducing some of their import tariffs to zero by a few more years.

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