EARTH Thailand

Map Ta Phut has 'soured Japanese investors'

The Nation 07 January 2010 | Nalin Viboonchart

Thailand is no longer the most attractive Asian destination for Japanese investors, thanks to the Map Ta Phut fiasco, Munenori Yamada, president of the Japan External Trade Organisation's Bangkok office, said yesterday.

He said the crisis further discredited the government to an extreme degree and caused investor confidence in the Kingdom to nosedive.

"Airport closures, mobs, riots - these are all political problems that could happen in any country. But the lack of clarity on the Map Ta Phut issue is an economic problem, one that has directly hurt investor confidence in Thailand," Yamada said.

He said as far as he could tell, Japanese investors looking for new Asian production bases no longer considered Thailand a priority destination. However, Jetro has not yet heard whether any Japanese company plans to shift their present investment away from Thailand.

Yamada, who yesterday extended a personal invitation to Industry Minister Charnchai Chairungrueng to attend the Asia Green IT Seminar 2010 in Thailand on February 8, urged the government to solve the Map Ta Phut problem within two months, in order to restore the Kingdom's shine among Japanese and other investors.

'Evaluate financial damage'

He also suggested the Thai government evaluate the daily financial damage of the 64 halted projects, in order to facilitate a solution.

Vice Industry Minister Sorayud Petchtrakul said the Asia Green IT Seminar, which will cover environmental law, would be hosted by Japanese firms concerned about investment in Thailand. Japanese experts will be flown in to address the event.

He said Jetro had informed the Industry Ministry that some Japanese firms that had co-invested with PTT in the Map Ta Phut area were now suffering financial difficulties and had been asked by their banks about the feasibility of operating the projects. Therefore, Jetro would like the Thai government to explain the present situation regarding Map Ta Phut to the lenders.

Charnchai asked Yamada to have any financially ailing Japanese investors contact the ministry for immediate assistance.

He acknowledged that investors considered waiting four or five months for a solution to be overly burdensome.

The four-party panel tasked with finding a solution recently completed guidelines for health-impact assessments, but more time must be spent on finalising the structure of an independent environmental body. It will also take time for the suspended projects to meet all requirements.

In a related development, about 20 villagers from the Map Ta Phut area came to Bangkok yesterday asking to be allowed to participate on the panel.

Meanwhile, Rayong Governor Sayumporn Limthai complained that the province's pollution-reduction plan had failed to win National Environmental Board endorsement after seven revisions since last October. From 300 proposed projects worth Bt10 billion, the plan was revised to cover only 46 projects worth Bt200 million.