Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha sought to ease concerns over human trafficking and forced labour in a meeting with senior United States business lobbyists Saturday, an apparent effort to shore up confidence amid weakening economic data.
Speaking at a dinner with members of the US-Asean Business Council in New York, the prime minister said his military government was committed to solving long-standing problems including human trafficking, forced labour and illegal fishing.
He said the government was intensifying its efforts to wipe out corruption and promote transparency in the state sector. Trade and investment-related regulations were also being streamlined and standardised, he told the group, while labour skills were being upgraded and public infrastructure improved to help draw investors.
Gen Prayut said these improvements would also help prepare future governments if they decided to bring Thailand into the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. The prime minister has so far refused to commit to a decision on joining the TPP.
Gen Prayut called on the members of USABC to convey his government’s political will to US importers.
Declining exports was one of the primary reasons cited by the Bank of Thailand last week as it lowered its full-year GDP growth forecast to 2.7% from 3%. The bank expects Thai shipments to decline 5% this year.
Thailand has also faced the threat of economic sanctions in the US for its poor performance in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, while the EU has threatened to ban Thai seafood imports amid evidence of poor regulation and the widespread use of forced labour in the fisheries industry.
The prime minister attempted to present a platform of political stability to the business group, which represents more than 140 of the largest US corporations, promising a general election would take place in 2017. In the lead-up to those polls, Gen Prayut said the military-installed government would focus its efforts on implementing reforms to strengthen social, economic and foreign affairs.
He said it was necessary for the military to seize power in May last year to stabilise the country and heal political divisiveness which had stalled national administration and spoiled the business climate, Thai News Agency reported.
“[Installing my] government was necessary to restore stability after almost 10 years of [political] conflicts in the society,” Gen Prayut told the forum.
Gen Prayut is in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting, where he is due to deliver an address on Wednesday at 6am Thai time.
His appearance in the US has been met with mixed reaction from Thai citizens based there, with rival groups staging separate rallies overnight to both support and denounce the coup leader.
Gen Prayut also spoke yesterday during an interactive dialogue on "Ending Poverty and Hunger" at the UN, identifying development as one of his government's reform priorities.
He said a new constitution, expected to be ready in about six months, would allow for greater public participation and provide equal access to social services and justice.
He told the forum that income disparity remained a challenge for Thailand due to the unfair distribution of land and natural resources.
After delivering the speech, Gen Prayut presided over the opening of an exhibition on His Majesty the King’s sufficiency economy theory.
The prime minister said poverty was a significant factor hampering democratic development in Thailand and made democracy here “different” to other countries.
He said with the middle class and the rich in control, the poor were deprived of opportunities and if “democracy was not put right”, corruption would reign and the country's core problems would not be solved.
“We have to build a democracy that is stable and sustainable,” he said. “If we don’t there will be more disparity … And it would be impossible to tackle poverty because the gap between the rich and the poor will be huge.”