EARTH Thailand

Korn to lead delegation to Japan

The Nation 19 February 2010   

A roadshow led by Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij will leave for Japan on March 11 and spend two days explaining solutions to the Map Ta Phut crisis to the government and investors, a Finance Ministry source said yesterday.

Next week, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will also chair a meeting with relevant organisations, including the Industry and Natural Resources and Environment Ministries, the Board of Trade and the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI), in a bid to speed up the process of solving the problem.

"The roadshow is significant in restoring Japanese investors' confidence, as the timing marks the deadline the Japan External Trade Organisation gave for the Thai government to solve the crisis: three months," the source said.

The crisis surrounds the suspension by the Central Administrative Court of construction work on 64 industrial plants in Rayong's Map Ta Phut area, because they failed to comply with constitutional requirements for environment- and health-impact assessments.

The roadshow delegation will fly out of Thailand on March 11, and Korn will give a speech at Tokyo's Imperial Hotel the next day. He will then have lunch with members the Japan Business Federation and meet with presidents and CEOs of Japanese financial institutions.

In the evening, he will meet with Japanese Finance Minister Naoto Kan.

The delegation will include Bank of Thailand Governor Tarisa Watanagase and representatives from the FTI and the Stock Exchange of Thailand, as well as Thai businessmen.

Meanwhile, Suthi Atchasai, a coordinator of the community group Eastern People's Network, led about 60 Rayong villagers to deliver a petition to the Japanese Embassy yesterday, asking Japan to stop pressuring the Thai government to end the Map Ta Phut crisis within five months.

He said that Jetro, the Japan Chamber of Commerce and individual companies had pressured the government for a speedy solution, without taking into account the legal limitations.

Suthi said it was rather unusual for Japan, which had also suffered from severe industrial-pollution crises, to rush Thailand in this way. There is no good reason for Japan to set a five-month deadline, as the crisis cannot be solved in such a short time, he said.

He also lambasted Japan for relocating dirty industries to Thailand while recognising that this would cause pollution problems. These problems have happened, and have led to the Central Administrative Court's injunction on 64 new investment projects, he said.

The network made copies of its petition to the Japanese government and sent them to Jetro, the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry. It also threatened to stage a bigger protest if Japan maintained its pressure on the Thai government.

The Central Administrative Court's judges will visit Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate on February 22, to investigate the conditions of the 12 industrial projects which have asked for the court's relaxation. This followed the request of Srisuwan Janya, president of the Stop Global Warming Association, that the court should thoroughly consider the plea before the ruling. He said if the projects are allowed to continue with the construction works, there is no guarantee that the operators would take the best care of environment and health.

At a seminar organised by The Nation last week, the president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Bangkok, Yo Jitsukata, said that while foreign investors would always consider an unstable political situation in Thailand as a risk factor, the Map Ta Phut crisis represented a bigger risk in terms of investment losses.

He said the government must quickly resolve the issue in order to avoid further loss of investor confidence.

Several Japanese companies are involved in the 64 suspended projects at Map Ta Phut, and many more fear disruption to their raw-material supplies as a consequence of the suspensions.