Gloomy outlook for 2013 exports

Double-digit growth a tall order, says minister

Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom Thursday acknowledged Thai exports may grow only by single digits next year as global economic prospects remain fragile and Europe's debt crisis lingers.

"We try to make the target the most realistic at the time, taking into account the world's economic prospects and the euro-zone debt crisis," said Mr Boonsong, who met with 64 Thai overseas trade counsellors and 30 honorary foreign trade advisers to discuss export targets and promotions for 2013.

Exports are one of the more contentious issues facing the Yingluck Shinawatra government along with the capital-intensive rice pledging scheme.

Kittiratt Na-Ranong, the finance minister and deputy prime minister, admitted in August that an earlier pledge that exports would grow by 15% this year was a "white lie", which drew a massive public rebuke.

Critics have said the white lie hurt the government's credibility and rocked public confidence in the administration.

In the latest forecast, Thai export growth is expected to end this year between 4.5% and 5%.

An inside source said the Commerce Ministry recently set a target to increase exports next year by 10-12%.

But Thursday, Mr Boonsong said double-digit growth is unlikely.

"The exact target for next year will be officially available next week after we've thoroughly evaluated the foreign trade situation and discussed with exporters," he said.

Former commerce minister Narongchai Akrasanee said next year's export growth will be 8-9% at most, with double-digit growth becoming increasingly difficult in the years ahead.

"A great area of concern for the Thai economy is the risk from personal loans that grow substantially and bring about bad debt or non-performing loans," he said. "All relevant parties must closely control and supervise to prevent excessive expansion of this segment of loans."

Somjin Plengkhum, director of the Thai Trade Center in New York, said Thai exports to the US are expected to improve next year after President Barack Obama won re-election.

Ralph McMurray, an honorary trade adviser to the commerce ministry, said demand for construction materials and cars in the US is expected to rise after the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy last month.

Patama Singhara Na Ayudhaya, director of the Thai Trade Center in Rome, said Thai exports to the EU are forecast to improve next year after this year's contraction of 14% even if it means merely a flat reading.

"The overall economic conditions in the EU remain worrisome," said Mrs Patama.

"European consumers remain cautious about spending and buying luxury goods. They've been shifting their consumption behaviour to canned and finished food."

Srirat Rastapana, director-general of the International Trade Promotion Department, said the ministry's focus next year will include trade and investment within Asean, promotion of the Kitchen of the World scheme and small and medium-sized enterprises.

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Writer: Phusadee Arunmas
Position: Business Reporter