Thailand wants more Japanese businesses to expand their investment in Thailand, especially in government-promoted special economic zones (SEZs) that could be used as production bases once the Asean Economic Community (AEC) takes full effect.
Japan said the call matched its own plan to expand its presence in the Mekong River region, which the country aims to use as a platform for further investment in Asean.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha praised Thailand as a perfect location with more than 5,000 kilometres of border with neighbouring countries and their growing economies.
"That provides room for growing border trade, and that's why Thailand is an interesting country to invest in," Gen Prayut said yesterday at a seminar on business strategy in the AEC era.
The forum, hosted by Nikkei Inc and Thailand's Board of Investment (BoI), saw hundreds of Japanese investors attend.
The prime minister said Thai border trade of 900 billion baht a year could potentially grow much larger.
"With our plan to promote the economy along the border via the SEZs, the BoI's new policy to promote value-added investment, as well as several infrastructure projects to support logistics, the economic zones along the Thai border would be a perfect place for Japanese investment in Asean," Gen Prayut said.
Last week, Thailand, Japan and Myanmar effectively launched the US$50-billion Dawei special economic zone by signing an agreement in Tokyo that is likely to have a deep impact on trade and investment in Southeast Asia.
The move showed Japan's interest in investing not only in the Mekong region, but also in Asean as a whole to tap greater demand after the AEC begins in earnest.
BoI secretary-general Hiranya Sujinai said her group had provided more privileges for SEZs to help promote investment along the border.
"We emphasise several industries that have high growth potential such as logistics, services and processed agriculture products," she said.
Japanese investors expect to increase their investment in the Mekong region, according to Japan's ambassador to Thailand, Shiro Sadoshima.
"We had the seventh Mekong-Japan summit recently in Tokyo," he said, "and Japan has said clearly that it is interested in investing more in order to help strengthen the economy of the region."
Eizo Kobayashi, the chairman of Itochu Corporation, a leading conglomerate, said Thailand remained an interesting country in Japanese eyes.
He noted that Japanese investment continued to grow after several companies were hurt by the widespread floods of 2011, but he said most investors still worry about high labour costs in Thailand compared with nearby countries.