EARTH Thailand

Govt faces more EEC challenges than was thought, forum hears

The Nation 11 October 2017 | WICHIT CHAITRONG  

SOME large infrastructure projects in the Eastern Economic Corridor are opposed by local communities, while a number have high costs and may not be able to proceed at the desired pace, researchers at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) have warned.

Although the EEC policy is the correct one to pursue, there are more challenging issues than was previously thought that the government has to overcome, TDRI president Somkiat Tangkitvanich said yesterday.

Some infrastructure projects such as U-tapao International Airport will be successfully implemented because Thailand is a popular tourist destination, he told the “Eastern Economic Corridor Fast Track to Thailand 4.0?” forum, hosted by the Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau and attended by foreign investors.

However, projects like high-speed rail, which is under the responsibility of the State Railway of Thailand, will have a very high cost, so they are unlikely to move forward rapidly.

Currently, the high-speed rail project is in its early stages and it is a long-term project whole viability remains questionable, Somkiat said. 

The high-speed railway would link three airports: Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang and U-tapao.

The government plans to attract private investment under the public-private-partnership (PPP) model for large projects, but it will not easy to convince investors about the returns, the TDRI chief stressed.

Saowaruj Rattanakhamfu, a researcher at the TDRI, said that another group of infrastructure projects was opposed by local communities as they were worried about the environmental impact.

The planned Bt88.1-billion expansion of Laem Chabang Seaport requires reclamation work and its environment impact assessment is opposed by the local communities. The project, which is scheduled to run from 2018 to 2022, is under the supervision of the Port Authority of Thailand, which manages the PPP project. The seaport plans to increase cargo capacity to 18 million TEUs, from 11 million TEUs currently.

The planned Bt10-billion investment in Map Ta Phut Port requires reclamation that will add 1,000 rai (160 hectares) of land, in order to facilitate cargo capacity of 33 million tonnes, compared to the current 25 million tonnes.

Moreover, the Bt2-billion development of Satthahip Port, which aims to facilitate tourism and goods transport between Eastern Seaboard ports, may face delay as the Thai Royal Navy, which is responsible for the project, lacks experience in commercial management, Saowaruj said.

As local communities are starting to voice their concerns, Somkiat said that should the government and local communities be able to work out their differences, those projects could proceed. Foreign investors at the forum also expressed concerned about the delay in EEC infrastructure projects, as history suggested that large investment projects were often implemented at a slower pace.

As to the 10-promoted industries in the EEC, Somkiat predicted that much fewer than 10 would attract much private investment.

He cited those as being the aviation and logistics, affluent and wellness tourism, and next-generation automotive sectors, due to investors’ strong foothold in these industries. 

Others such as digital business, industrial robotics and biofuels/biochemicals are unlikely to attract much investment, he added.

Chiruit Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya, president of the Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau, said EEC would bring greater opportunities for the MICE industry, noting that the number of visitors reached 1.1 million last year.