Call for neighbours to unite around SEZs
The government is encouraging four neighbouring countries to seize opportunities from the Asean single market and collaborate with all 10 member nations to build up the regional economy in a sustainable manner.
With the new opportunities, special economic zones (SEZs) represent a key project, connecting Thailand and nearby Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, all countries with strong growth potential.
Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana said Asean countries have roughly 1,000 SEZs, representing 20% of 4,500 SEZs globally in 270 cities.
He said the SEZ scheme will contribute 20% of the GDP in each country and increase worker income by an average of 8% a year.
"The SEZ project will improve and develop to serve the economic expansion in Asean countries," Mr Uttama said at a seminar called "Asean SEZs: A New Era of World Investment" at the Asean SEZ Summit hosted by Bangkok Post Group.
In Thailand, the government initiated 10 SEZs in border provinces in 2015 and is now developing two SEZ locations in Sa Kaeo and Songkhla.
The Kanchanaburi and Tak SEZs are proceeding with land development, while the Treasury Department will issue land auction envelopes for SEZ development in Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan and Nong Khai.
Moreover, the government is working hard on the flagship Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) scheme, envisioned as an Asean manufacturing hub providing 44 special service promotion zones.
In addition to Thailand's SEZs, Laos has 15 SEZs and Myanmar has 20 SEZs.
Malaysia runs 18 SEZs, 300 special service promotion zones and six technology industrial parks.
Vietnam has 18 SEZs, 292 special service promotion zones and three technology industrial parks.
Singapore has two SEZs, two eco-industrial estates and one technology centre.
"Asean should synchronise all industrial zones to be a single production base, and many SEZs in this region can support the Asean economy," Mr Uttama said. "All members should collaborate and support each other to develop industrial value chains, digital aspects and innovation to reduce inequality issues in the region."
He said he expects the EEC scheme to change Asean industrial sentiment, improve existing connectivity and foster manufacturing and innovation.
The government aims to connect the corridor and SEZs in other partnerships such as the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy.
Nonetheless, Somhatai Panichewa, president of SET-listed Amata VN Plc, said the group has spent 3.4 billion baht on investment in industrial-related infrastructure at Amata operations in Vietnam.
Amata VN plans to invest in a smart city in Vietnam and team up with Japan's Yokohama city in 2019. It will also join with South Korea's Incheon metropolitan area to develop a smart city in Vietnam.
"Vietnam has such high potential in the industrial sector, and this country can connect with Thailand, so investors can expand their businesses between Thailand and Vietnam," Mrs Somhatai said.
Amata VN invested in Amata City Bien Hoa, Amata City Halong and Amata City Long Thanh in Vietnam for its first overseas industrial operations.
Parent firm Amata Corporation has invested in Vietnam for 20 years.
In 2018, Amata VN spent 700 million baht in Bien Hoa, 1.3 billion baht in Long Thanh and 700 million baht in Ha Long.
In 2019, plans call for allocating more investment budget in Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar for the development of new industrial estates.
Mrs Somhatai said the four neighbouring countries can cooperate and support new investment in Asean to reduce customs red tape and help investors.
The four are developing transport links such as the Thailand-Myanmar connecting route to Dawei port, Cambodia's Sihanoukville port and Vietnam's Vung Tau port.
"All the related infrastructure will help support the Asean economy for sustainable growth in the long run," Mrs Somhatai said.