PM returns with pledges

PM returns with pledges

Major companies set to invest US$5bn

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, second right, walks from his plane after it landed at Suvarnabhumi airport on Sunday morning. (Photo: Government House)
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, second right, walks from his plane after it landed at Suvarnabhumi airport on Sunday morning. (Photo: Government House)

Thailand can expect to receive at least US$5 billion in investments from Tesla, Google and Microsoft in the coming years, according to Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin on Sunday.

He announced the pledges in Bangkok after attending the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week.

On the sidelines of the summit, Mr Srettha also met top executives from leading companies to get them to invest in the kingdom.

"Tesla is looking at building an EV [electric vehicle] manufacturing facility, while Microsoft and Google are looking at establishing data centres," he said upon arriving at Suvarnabhumi airport on Sunday, though he stopped short of fleshing out the figure.

Tesla, Google and Microsoft did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The prime minister is keen to court foreign investments in an effort to boost Thailand's flagging economy, which is expected to grow just 2.8% this year -- less than previously projected -- due to weaker exports.

In the US last week, Mr Srettha spoke with Tesla CEO Elon Musk about the prospects of the EV sector.

Thailand, Asia's fourth-largest automobile assembly hub, has been offering incentives to EV and battery makers to establish a production base in the country.

At the same time, it is offering tax cuts for local EV buyers, in a bid to become the region's leading EV market.

Mr Srettha also told the waiting press that he is planning to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Leaders' Meeting, which is set to take place in San Francisco in November.

At the meeting, the premier, who will be accompanied by Thai business figures, plans to meet executives from other leading global companies to discuss investment opportunities both in the US and Thailand.

"If foreign companies want to set up branches in Thailand, they will also need financial support.

"International investors need a liaison who is well-versed in financial affairs," Mr Srettha said.

He said he also met representatives from the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) to discuss the possibility of publicly listing Thai companies in the US.

"We've never had a Thai company on the NYSE. I hope that at least one Thai company will be listed there this year," Mr Srettha said.

Asked if there are any laws that pose hurdles to foreign investment, Mr Srettha said: "Nothing in particular. But we have not done business with some countries in a long time, so some companies have concerns about investing in Thailand.

"Standard rules [regarding the conduct of business] are already in place. But we may have to look at them in detail and fine-tune them," he said.

While Mr Srettha appeared upbeat about the investment pledges, Tawisant Lonanurak, a former secretary-general of the Thai Chamber of Commerce's northeastern chapter, said major foreign companies have to carefully consider many factors before deciding to invest abroad.

"They will not rush to invest just because they were invited to do so," he said, noting investors will take into account a country's political stability, taxes and rule of law before deciding to jump in.

"Thailand is plagued with political instability and corruption. Often, foreign investors have to pay kickbacks to agencies, in return for the ease of doing business.

"Currently, international investments are slowing down because investors worldwide are struggling with the global economic slowdown.

"But if the prime minister can convince a few of the world's leading companies to invest in Thailand, that will be great," Mr Tawisant said.

He also stressed the need for the government to prioritise the negotiation of more free trade agreements with Thailand's trading partners worldwide; otherwise, he said, they will move their investment elsewhere.

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