The government is conducting an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for a land bridge megaproject in southern Thailand as it contemplates a massive new boost for the Thai economy in the future, says the Industry Ministry.
The EIA report, which suggests ways to mitigate negative impacts from the development, is required if authorities want to push ahead with the project.
The scheme, which has been discussed for 40 years, aims to develop a logistics network connecting Ranong on the Andaman Sea to Chumphon on the Gulf of Thailand.
Authorities want to create a land bridge as a new trade route for ships, serving as an alternative to the existing route from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean through the Strait of Malacca.
Roughly 85,000 ships pass the strait annually, with the figure expected to increase to 128,000 in a decade, according to the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT).
The proposed land bridge routinely sparks concerns among local communities over the impact on their way of life and the environment, but it could offer higher wages for residents.
"The government will promote investment and skilled labour development, as well as support small and medium-sized enterprises in the area," said Industry Minister Pimphattra Wichaikul, who visited Chumphon on Friday to meet local industry officials and entrepreneurs.
The ministry plans to help the government develop the land bridge project by drawing investments and amending regulations to facilitate the establishment of new businesses, she said.
"The land bridge will play a key role in driving the Thai economy in the long term," said Ms Pimphattra, adding the project is expected to link to the Southern Economic Corridor.
The Southern Economic Corridor covers Chumphon, Ranong, Surat Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat provinces and is expected to connect with the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), which covers Chon Buri, Chachoengsao and Rayong provinces. The latter is being developed into a high-tech industrial hub, hosting 12 targeted S-curve industries.
The investment value of the land bridge project was estimated during the Prayut Chan-o-cha government at 1 trillion baht, which includes the construction of new deep-sea ports as well as a highway and railway system.
"The IEAT is ready to support the land bridge project, but the government should first step up plans to organise roadshows overseas to introduce the project to prospective investors," said Veeris Ammarapala, governor of the IEAT.