Trat SEZ pinned as border hub
Thailand's much-touted Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) and a new special economic zone (SEZ) in Trat province are expected to become instrumental in bolstering trade not only to Thailand but also to Cambodia and Vietnam, business leaders from the two countries said at a cross-border trade seminar.
Entrepreneurs from the three countries are being urged to cash in on growing cross-border trade particularly for agriculture, seafood and consumer products, as well as tourism.
"Although Trat is not a part of the EEC territory, the province is also expected to enjoy benefits from this megaproject, as it is 340 kilometres from Laem Chabang seaport in Thailand, and 25km from Sihanoukville seaport in Cambodia," said Trat governor Charnna Iamsang.
Speaking at the "Strategic Trat-Koh Kong Route to Penetrate Cambodia and Vietnam Markets" seminar, Mr Charnna said Trat's Khlong Yai district, designated as the SEZ development location, will help strengthen businesses and the economy in the eastern coast of Thailand, where it borders Cambodia and Vietnam.
The planned SEZ development in Trat covers 31,375 rai in three tambons: Khlong Yai, Mai Rut and Hat Lek.
The government wants the border SEZs to provide an opening for investors that use unskilled foreign labour, allowing the entire region to unite and grow.
The government decided two years ago to set up industrial estates in SEZs in 10 provinces for the purposes of agriculture, industry, logistics, and tourism.
Tak, Sa Kaeo, Trat, Mukdahan, Songkhla and Nong Khai were designated for the first phase. Chiang Rai, Kanchanaburi, Narathiwat and Nakhon Phanom were named for the second phase.
According to Mr Charnna, Trat's officials and private sector have been working with their counterparts in three provinces of Cambodia -- Battambang, Pursat and Sihanoukville -- and have set up a joint committee to drive economic, tourism and trade cooperation between the two countries and tackle the cross-border trade obstacles.
Thailand and Cambodia recently agreed to put more effort into boost trading activities at the cross-border checkpoint at Bo Rai at Thailand's Trat and Battambang side in Cambodia.
As a result, the number of cross-border travellers has increased dramatically to 300 per day from only 30.
The border checkpoint is expected to boost trade value to 4 billion baht this year, up from 200 million baht over the last few years.
According to Mr Charnna, Thai government has planned to develop Trat as a green city as it has fewer heavy industries that Rayong and Chon Buri provinces. Adventure and eco-tourism are also prioritised for the long term development of Trat province.
Property Perfect Plc chief executive Chainid Adhyanasakul said the EEC is expected to help drive the economies on the eastern coast to grow 5% a year in average during 2017-2021, create more than 100,000 jobs and contribute 100 billion worth of tax revenue annually.
SET-listed Property Perfect last year won the bid to develop 895 rai of state land at Khlong Yai district. The company plans to invest 5 billion baht over the next 5-6 years.
"Trat has the potential to become an international city in the future and accommodate the meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions (Mice) sector," Mr Chainid said.
He said the number of tourists in the province is expected to increase from 2 million per year in 2016 to more than 5 million per year over the next five years, thanks to more than 500 islands in the province. He predicted tourism income will amount to 80 billion baht per year.
"Trat is the second wave of the EEC. The province will be a golden gate to Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City," he said.
The EEC has been heavily promoted by the government as a new SEZ to attract foreign investment.
The corridor spanning more than 30,000 rai in the three eastern provinces of Rayong, Chon Buri and Chachoengsao is projected to help generate new investment of up to 1.5 trillion baht within five years from both the government and the private sector.
In the next 10 years, Transport Ministry is expected to complete a motorway project that will be linking Trat with major cities in Cambodia. More deep-sea ports will also be added, said Mr Chainid.
"Moreover, Bangkok Airways is planning to expand a runway at its airport in Trat to accommodate bigger aircraft," he said.
Yaowalak Suphapha, vice-president of Koh Kong Sez Co, the operator of Koh Kong SEZ, said five companies from Japan, Korea and Thailand have already established factories in the area, including Hyundai, KKN Apparel, Yazaki and Hana.
The company has a total 2,300 rai of land, only 30% of which is occupied.
According to Ms Yaowalak, the company is in talks with several new clients, including a beer company and a metal company in Thailand. Japanese and Chinese companies are also interested in the area.
"Incentives including corporate income tax exemption for up to 9 years, import duty tax waivers for all imported heavy equipment and exemption of export taxes are attractive enough to draw their investment," Ms Yaowalak said.
She said Koh Kong can be developed as a production base for high-standard products or international brands given competitive wages compared to other countries in Southeast Asia.
Koh Kong is also able to connect to major ports in Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, so products can be shipped to other countries by sea and transferred by land due to better infrastructure.
She added Cambodia is also promoting 15 SEZs throughout the country and Koh Kong is designated as the main gateway to Thailand and countries beyond, such as Myanmar.
Pipat Lerksahakul, a director of the Federation of Thai Industries for Trat province, said the government should promote developing more SEZs and offer more privileges to investors such as a broader based tax incentives and foreign employment.