Groups note positive signs talks can end row soon

Economy March 04, 2014 00:00

By Erich Parpart
The Nation

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The seven private-sector organisations that have offered a mediating role in the political conflict yesterday continued to press for negotiations to find solutions to the turmoil that is beginning to damage the country's basic economic foundations.

After a joint meeting yesterday, the core members of the seven business groups said they believed that negotiations could begin and solutions found, since there are positive signs from conflicting parties that they want to talk and parts of Bangkok have been relieved of blockage by the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).
The seven groups are the Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT), the Thai Bankers’ Association, the Thai Chamber of Commerce (TCC), the Federation of Thai Industries (FTA), the Federation of Thai Capital Market Organisations, the Stock Exchange of Thailand and the Thai Listed Companies Association.
They noted that the conflict had led to the loss of children’s and other innocent lives and had created a deep and profound rift between the people in the society.
Apart from the loss of life, these organisations said they believed that the conflict had begun to damage the country’s economy severely, as small and medium-sized enterprises, farmers and labourers have been unable to cope with the situation. The impasse has also affected investors’ short-term confidence and is hampering the country’s competitiveness in the region for the long term. The groups also noted that the tourism industry had taken the biggest hit from the four months of protest.
“For successful negotiation, the parties in conflict should not create any condition that hampers the arbitration process before they sit at the negotiation table. The best way is for all parties to keep the benefit of the country as a whole in mind,” said Isara Vongkusolkij, chairman of the TCC and the Board of Trade of Thailand.
TCT president Piyaman Techapaiboon said the number of tourists visiting Thailand so far this year had decreased by 1.7 million, which was equal to a loss of Bt82 billion in revenue. 
She urged the government to get rid of the ineffective state of emergency in Bangkok and pleaded that it find other security measures to control the situation. If the edict is lifted and the situation not prolonged into the third quarter, the TCT could maintain its adjusted revenue target of Bt2 trillion for this year.
‘Not as bad as 2010’
She also maintained that the current situation was not as bad as in 2010, since only 48 countries have issued Level 2 or 3 travel warnings. In 2010, about 100 countries declared the highest warning, Level 5.
Paiboon Nalinthrangkurn, chairman of the Federation of Thai Capital Market Organisations, said the current situation had affected the stock market, as projected growth of listed companies’ earnings per share, previously expected at 15 per cent for this year, have been lowered to 6-7 per cent.
He said that since the beginning of the “Bangkok shutdown” imposed by the PDRC, foreign net sales had reached Bt1 trillion. He believes that gross domestic product will grow by less than 3 per cent this year.
The Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking (JSCCIB) also agrees that negotiation is needed to end the conflict. It has urged state agencies to restart talks on free-trade agreements (FTAs), especially with the European Union and on the Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement. 
Payungsak Chartsutipol, chairman of the FTI, said these free-trade deals were crucial for the trade industry and if this issue were left unmanaged for too long, potential trade partners would look for agreements elsewhere.
The JSCCIB has announced that a Thailand-Chile Business Council will be established by the end of this month. It has also proposed the creation of joint business councils with Cambodia, Italy, Malaysia and Indonesia. 
“Fifty per cent of all our trade with neighbours are with Malaysia, and more and more Thai investors are beginning to be interested in Indonesia because it is a large market with lots of potential,” Payungsak said. “The negotiation of FTA deals and establishment of trade associations should start now so that the new government can begin its work right away after it comes into power.”