Experts split on PM's hub dream

Experts split on PM's hub dream

Observers urge govt to focus on root causes of the nation's problems

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announces his vision for Thailand at Government House last month. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announces his vision for Thailand at Government House last month. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announced his vision for Thailand's future recently. Dubbed "Ignite Thailand", the plan seeks to establish the country as the world-class hub for eight sectors, namely tourism, medical and wellness tourism, food and agriculture, aviation, logistics, future mobility, digital economy, as well as finance.

The vision was lauded by economic analysts, who said the government should continue to develop the nation's potential, and the plan could lead the way towards a more sustainable way out of the current economic slump.

According to Nonarit Bisonyabut, senior economic researcher at Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), developing the country into a regional hub for businesses and industries can help Thailand escape the middle-income trap.

"Thailand should find a way to general revenues in a more sustainable manner, as the country's main problem is low economic growth," he said.


He urged state agencies to identify which areas need urgent attention, so officials can focus their efforts on the problems and direct resources more effectively.

"The budget for soft power promotion, for instance, will never be enough, as long as the government spends it only on organising events," he explained, urging the government to spend its budget more wisely.

For instance, the government might want to consider sparing part of the 500-billion-baht budget for the digital wallet scheme to help address some of the structural issues within the economy.

"If the government wants to promote the country as the logistic hub, it should forget the Land Bridge megaproject. It would save up several billion baht, which could be used to solve border issues and address weaknesses in our regulations," he added.

"We are already number 1 in the region in terms of tourism. As a wellness and medical hub, we are also price-competitive with Singapore, especially in surgery and childbirth.

"With our rich food culture and our status as a food exporter, Thailand could very well become a regional hub for agriculture and food -- we just need to focus on maintaining the quality," he said.


The researcher, however, pointed out the challenges faced by the other five industries.

Mr Nonarit said the opportunity to develop the country's potential as an aviation hub is gradually narrowing because of the stiff competition in the region.

The government planned to develop aircraft maintenance depots in U-tapao and Chiang Rai-Mae Fah Luang airports, but construction has been beset by delays since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Thailand is well-positioned to be a logistics hub because of its location at the centre of the Cambodia-Laos-Myanmar-Vietnam region, which is expected to grow rapidly in the next few years, but plans for a cross-country connection would only be viable as long as they linked to either India or China on one end.

"If we can connect to India and southern China, it would be a great advantage because there is a lot of demand," he said.

However, the government is choosing to go with the Land Bridge mega-project, which Mr Nonarit said won't significantly reduce transit times like the Panama Canal and Egypt's Suez Canal.

Thailand also has the potential to become the future hub for foreign investment, he said, especially as China is facing numerous geopolitical problems.

In order to become a digital economy hub, the government should ask itself, whether or not it is ready to develop the country into a digital special economic zone, and really focus on start-up businesses.

While it is impossible for Thailand to compete with Hong Kong and Singapore as a global financial hub in the next couple of years, the country can still be a hub for regional investments, especially for companies and projects based in the CLMV region, he said.

Given those limitations, he urged the government to concentrate on its areas of expertise, namely tourism and food.

Nonarit: Govt needs to focus

Isares Rattanadilok Na Phuket, vice-chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI), said he was delighted to hear the government is finally concentrating on the key issue affecting the country.

"I want to see the government work with the private sector, the way the Joint Public and Private Sector Consultative Committee (JPPSCC) did, to ensure every effort goes in the same direction," said Mr Isares.

If the government has set a clear direction, the private sector will then be able to help the country to compete with its neighbouring countries, Mr Isares said. "I think the government is starting to see the country must have better infrastructure to accommodate both tourists and advanced industries," he said.

Improvements to the country's railway system can improve connections to Laos via Thanaleng railway station, and onwards to southern China and beyond. However, private companies are often deterred from investing due to the abundance of red-tape. As such, he urged the government ease the regulations to facilitate private sector involvement. "The advantage of this government is that the prime minister came from the private sector, so he understands what it wants," he added.

Isares: Time to set clear goals

The Dream

On the other hand, Varakorn Samakoses, economic and finance expert and president of Dhurakij Pundit University, disagreed with the hub development plan saying the concept of hubs is old-fashioned.

The hub development plan has been talked about for a long time, he said, adding the world today is more advanced than that. "It might be the dream of the premier alone. I think the government should focus on short-term policies that are more suited to more current problems, before committing to hub development processes for another 20–30 years," said Mr Varakorn. "The premier has a dream that he wants to make true, but his method is not based on reality. We barely hear other countries talk about hubs in this era."

Thailand, he said, has a lot of short-term problems that need to be fixed, that's why the government should review the plan to develop the eight hubs to see if it still lines up with the national development strategy. "However, in these 2–3 years, the most important is to learn how to spend the budget efficiently and boost the quality of human resources," Mr Varakorn added.

Varakorn: Hub dream outdated

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