Rail plan U-turn deemed a blip

Rail plan U-turn deemed a blip

Apisak says rejig won't hurt other China deals

A police officer checks the pile of government rice at a warehouse. (Bangkok Post file photo)
A police officer checks the pile of government rice at a warehouse. (Bangkok Post file photo)

The government insists rice and rubber deals with China will remain intact despite the Thai government's recent decision to wholly invest in the proposed Thai-Sino high-speed rail project.

Commerce Minister Apiradi Tantraporn said yesterday that solo investment in the initial high-speed rail project in the country would have no bearing on sales of 2 million tonnes of rice and 200,000 tonnes of rubber agreed earlier.

Thai officials and their Chinese counterparts signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in December 2014 for 1 million tonnes each of old and new grains along with the 200,000 tonnes of rubber. The MoU was part of the Thai-Sino high-speed rail plan.

Mrs Apiradi said Thailand remains committed to using Chinese technology to build and operate the high-speed rail system. In addition, Thailand is in the process of delivering the remaining 130,000 tonnes of rice to China under an earlier deal for 1 million tonnes struck by the Yingluck Shinawatra government.

The Thai government aims to sell over 2 million tonnes of rice this year on a government-to-government basis. But it admits a renewed attempt to sell rice to Iran may hit a snag because of escalating political conflict in the Middle East.

Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong said the size of big-ticket infrastructure projects has been slashed to 1.5 trillion baht from 1.7 trillion after the Thai-Sino high-speed rail project was scaled down to about a third of the initial distance.

Investment in the double-track rail route will be cut to 170 billion baht from 300 billion after the government's decision to fully fund the project, constructing only the 250-kilometre Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima section, he said.

The original plan was for a 845km-route from Bangkok to Nong Khai and another from Kaeng Khoi in Saraburi to Map Ta Phut in Rayong province.

In a related development, Mr Apisak, who chaired a meeting on pushing economic stimulus measures, referred to the Transport Ministry report that eight of the 20 big-ticket infrastructure projects are in line with schedules, with 12 delayed a few months. Construction contracts for all 20 are to be signed this year, he said.

Mr Apisak said the Finance Ministry wants infrastructure projects that can generate income under public-private partnerships.

Regarding the government's planned cash handout to low-income earners, he said the ministry is working on the data of underprivileged residents and will instruct state-run banks on registration.

The poverty line and cost of living will be factors used to decide eligibility for the handout, said Mr Apisak.

Finance permanent secretary Somchai Sujjapongse said a database of the poor will allow the government to direct welfare to those really in need.

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