State urged to step up progress of special zones
EEC alone seen as insufficient to boost the economy, writes Chatrudee Theparat
The government is being urged to speed up the implementation of additional special development zones and the digitalisation of government services to boost investments and rehabilitate the country's economy which has been battered by the Covid-19 crisis.
Kanit Sangsubhan, secretary-general to the EEC Office, said the government's flagship Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) alone is not enough to attract investment and boost the country's gross domestic product to grow 4-5% a year as planned after Covid-19.
The EEC scheme alone is not enough to upgrade Thailand to become a developed country, he said.
"Additional special development zones including the Southern Economic Corridor [SEC], the Northeastern Economic Corridor [NEEC] and Northern Economic Corridor [NEC] are desperately needed," Mr Kanit said. "In parallel, the government also needs to speed up the digitalisation of state services to make Thailand more enticing to private investment over the next 5-6 years."
According to Mr Kanit, the SEC scheme, which covers double-track rails, land bridges, oil pipelines and commercial ports in Chumphon and Ranong can boost tourism and the bio-economy in the southern region.
Since 2019, the government has been pushing the first phase of the SEC's development, slated for 2019-22.
In January 2019, the cabinet approved the development of the Southern Economic Corridor, covering 116 projects worth 107 billion baht.
The 116 projects will be developed on a combined 300,000 square metres of land in Chumphon, Ranong, Surat Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat between 2019-22.
The development covers four key strategic plans, with the first aiming to develop an area that serves as a gateway to South Asia and a link to the EEC.
Mr Kanit said a proposed land bridge between the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea is seen as a potentially key part of a new major economic development plan in the south.
The government has allocated 10 million baht in the fiscal 2021 budget for the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC) to conduct surveys and public hearings for the planned land bridge project.
The Transport Ministry is now designing 108-kilometre double-track rails linking Chumphon and Ranong. The design is expected to be completed this year.
The land bridge project should be implemented within one to two years, according to Mr Kanit, who added that another project of the proposed corridor is a highway along the coast of the Gulf of Thailand to link provinces along the Andaman Sea such as Krabi, Ranong and Trang which can enhance the tourism industry in those areas.
On March 6, 2018, the cabinet gave the nod to the Royal Coast highway project.
The government is also planning a high-end tourism campaign in coastal provinces to boost the income of local communities.
Under the development plan, the government plans to develop a dual-track rail to connect Chumphon to Ranong, which has a deep-sea port that will serve as a gateway to the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec).
The framework aims to strengthen regional cooperation and enhance socioeconomic cooperation among Southeast Asian and South Asian countries such as Myanmar, Thailand, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, Mr Kanit said the NEC should focus on tourism and the NEEC on the bio-economy and rail development.
The Kunming-Vientiane Railway is slated to begin operations in November this year, five years after construction on the project officially commenced. As a result of the project, Thailand should see a boost in tourism and trade as the capital of Laos is only a few kilometres from the Thai border.
Boosted by the new rail network, goods and tourists from China are expected to flood into Thailand.
Mr Kanit said he is also helping the NESDC draft the 13th national economic and social development plan (2023-2017). An initial draft of the 13th plan agreed that the EEC, once implemented, could boost investment to the value of 500 billion baht a year.
"Private investment in EEC this year and next year are forecast at around 300 billion baht a year. The government aims to raise the investment of EEC to 500 billion baht in the first year of the 13th plan."