High-speed rail blues

High-speed rail blues

Concern has grown over the influx of fresh produce from China into the Thai market after the China-Laos bullet train railway commenced operations early this month.

Opposition MPs submitted a motion to question the government last week following a report that 33 containers with 20 tonnes each of fresh vegetables from China were sent to Thailand in the first week of December.

The 414km route which took five years to construct under China's trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative runs from the Boten border pass in northern Laos bordering China to Vientiane which is opposite Nong Khai, Thailand's border town on the bank of the Mekong River.

The trains set out from Kunming, the capital city of southwest China's Yunnan province, in the morning and arrive at Vientiane by nightfall on the same day. They speed along the line at up to 160 km/h.

The development is challenging to Thailand as Chinese fresh produce can be sent to the Thai border in one day at a much cheaper cost than air transport.

But the China-Laos Railway is a great opportunity for all three nations -- China, Laos and Thailand. Thailand can likewise reap the opportunity to export fresh produce, particularly fruit to China via the rail route.

Unfortunately, the 652 km high-speed train railway from Bangkok to Nong Khai has made little progress after the 179-billion-baht project was agreed with China in May 2016. The project is supposed to connect to the China-Laos bullet train railway.

According to Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, it won't be until 2026 until the first phase of the high-speed train project which links Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima is operational.

And then the construction of the second phase linking Nakhon Ratchasima to Nong Khai will take 5-10 years to finish. Thailand will lose immense opportunities from such a delay.

Aat Pisanwanich, director of the Center for International Trade Studies, University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, expects the import of fresh produce from China to Thailand via the China-Laos railway will jump to 200 containers a month next year, increasing the country's trade deficit with China.

Firstly the government must ensure the quality and standard of the produce that comes from China. The government must also reach an agreement to link the country's existing railway to the Laos-China railway so it can transport its own domestic products to China along the newly-developed line.

In October, the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC) called on the government to speed up a tripartite agreement with its Lao and Chinese counterparts to develop seamless logistics infrastructure between Thailand and the China-Laos Railway.

Currently, railway logistics between Thailand and Laos are enabled via the conventional one-metre gauge track linking Nong Khai and Tha Na Laeng station in northern Vientiane. However, there is still a missing link between the existing rail system and the Laos-China railway which is in southern Vientiane. There has been no progress in relation to the NESDC's recommendation.

Like it or not, under the Asean-China FTA, Thailand cannot block the flood of cheaper products from China, so the government must be smart. The China-Laos link holds great promise for Thailand, both in terms of trade and also investment and tourism. However, to capitalise on these factors there is little time to waste.

Editorial

Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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