Call for fund to help SMEs benefit from AEC openings

Call for fund to help SMEs benefit from AEC openings

Academics want Thailand to set up a 1-billion-baht fund to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) explore regional investment opportunities once the Asean Economic Community kicks off late next year.

The fund, possibly co-financed by the government and the private sector, would be a source to support manufacturers short of money to invest overseas, said Aat Pisanwanich, director of the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce's Center for International Trade Studies.

Thai manufacturers have strong capability in industries such as textiles, seafood, shoes and rice, but many still need special funding for expansion.

Mr Aat said investments should come in the form of clusters to allow strong companies to set up production plants or distribution centres in neighbouring countries.

Thailand should also set up an agency with a similar role to the Japan External Trade Organization (Jetro) or some form of Jetro/Japanese government-related organisation that promotes trade and investment.

The suggestions follow the centre’s recent survey on the readiness of SMEs for the AEC.

Some 321,000 SMEs, representing 63.1% of the total 512,000 operators, say they may not be ready for the AEC's starting date on Dec 31, 2015.

"These operators need more time, about two and a half more years or by the end of 2016, for AEC integration," said Mr Aat.

Big companies believe they will be ready on schedule.

Most respondents who are not ready for regional integration said they need a clearer policy from the state, while some do not understand much about the pact or have no time to adjust.

Many believe their businesses have nothing much to do with the AEC, while some said they are willing to go for expansion abroad if there is potential business and sufficient funding.

Mr Aat said many SMEs deal with labour-intensive operations in areas such as rice, rubber, ceramics, textiles, garments and auto parts.

Lack of preparation may put some SMEs at risk if the market is opened wider, and in the worst case some may close but not right after the AEC launches, he said.

The survey showed 23% of SMEs need funding to get through a transitional period, 13% need support to improve their language and work skills, 12% want training courses on the AEC, and 7.5% want to see import tariffs slashed on raw materials.

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