NESDB searches for 'green' estate locations

Foreign import regulations tightening

The government's economic think tank wants to develop "green" industrial estate in non-flood-prone areas along with an adequate water supply to boost the industrial sector's environmental friendliness.

Arkom Termpitayapaisit, secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Board, said the NESDB is conducting a study to find appropriate locations.

Three initial sites with high potential have been identified in Nakhon Nayok, Prachin Buri and Chachoengsao provinces.

These provinces are already home to some industrial estates, but zoning has not yet been clearly set, said Mr Arkom.

"We have not yet formulated a concrete plan for the project, but we will need one for the long term. It will be good for the industrial sector while at the same time addressing environmental problems," said Mr Arkom.

He said advanced technology can be used to increase production along the Eastern Seaboard while reducing polluting emissions.

"We can deploy the Japanese model of green technology, which has proved successful in turning polluted industrial areas there into community-friendly zones," said Mr Arkom.

He said in the long term, Thailand's industrial sector will have no choice but to become more environmentally friendly and enhance the quality of life of local communities.

The export sector is already seeing regulations tightening in developed markets such as the EU.

Environmental concerns in these destinations are growing to the point where any products they import will be banned if they come from factories emitting high levels of pollution.

Even in sunrise industries such as automobiles where Thailand has an edge over rivals, industrialists must continue to refine their production technology if they want to maintain their attractiveness in the eyes of foreign investors, said Mr Arkom.

"Right now we're just an assembly base, with some diesel engines locally produced. But we should move towards producing petrol engines ourselves, and then in the next stage we can turn ourselves into a production centre for energy-saving vehicles," said Mr Arkom.

He said after the Asean Economic Community (AEC) kicks off in 2016, connectivity among regional countries will be tremendously enhanced in terms of both road and rail transport.

Hence, rules and regulations for accommodating cross-border trade and transport is becoming another major concern.

Thailand has made some progress by signing most of the 20 agreements required of Asean members, but six remain pending out of legal concerns.

As for regional integration under the AEC, he expressed confidence that Thailand will retain its status as the main destination for foreign investors.

Mr Arkom said this will become even more true of the Japanese, who are already the top foreign investors in Thailand.

Increasing political conflict with China will see them shift more of their investment away from that country to Asean, with Thailand the favourite destination.

However, Mr Arkom warned that Thailand's labour shortage problem remains a serious concern, and it will only grow worse as Myanmar continues to open up.

That will prompt the millions of Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand to return home and look for jobs there.

"Some people have voiced concern that Myanmar's cheaper wages will attract more foreign investors, but I still believe we're far better developed in terms of infrastructure and skilled labour. This will be the main factor keeping investors here," said Mr Arkom.

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Writer: Wichit Chantanusornsiri
Position: Business Reporter