KITTIRATT NA-RANONG, the caretaker finance minister, says prolonged anti-government protests could be a blow to the economy as purchasing power drops and volatility of the baht affects exports and foreign investment.
After meeting yesterday with officials of the Revenue, Excise and Customs departments, he said the three agencies were continuing to serve businesspeople, but were concerned that their ability to meet their revenue targets this quarter could be jeopardised by the actions of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee.
He also noted that although the baht had weakened, normally welcomed by exporters, that sector could suffer if the currency were destabilised by long-term political uncertainty.
The Commerce Ministry has said the current "Bangkok shutdown" could slow exports somewhat. However, logistics firms have been persuading their clients to use Laem Chabang Port in Chon Buri to avoid the road blockades in Bangkok.
Customs Department deputy director-general Yuttana Yimkarun said the road disruptions would not affect the agency’s work.
He said the department had shut down the online customs-clearance system linking Klong Toei Port and Lat Krabang Inland Container Depot. Klong Toei handles 1 million to 1.2 million twenty-foot-equivalent containers a year. The total annual value of its exports and imports is Bt2 trillion, contributing customs revenue of Bt30 billion a year.
"Though the system was shut down, the customs-clearance procedure is continuing as usual for exporters and importers. Officers will receive the export/import documents, then key data into the computers later," Yuttana said.
Srirat Rastapana, permanent secretary of the Commerce Ministry, said traders had begun to question Thailand’s ability to deliver exports. The Kingdom’s overseas trade officials had contacted their clients in an effort to assuage such fears.
"Thai trade counsellors will assure [them] that the export and manufacturing sectors will not be disrupted by the demonstrations. The government will also try to facilitate trading transactions as normal, as there are many [alternative] offices to serve traders, despite the closure of the main complex in Nonthaburi," she said.
She acknowledged that there were some transport difficulties and called for an end to the demonstrations soon to limit further damage to the economy and the export sector.
The ministry is maintaining its export-growth target for 2014 at 5 per cent for now but will review it after the end of the protest.
Srirat said the most affected sector was small and medium-sized enterprises, as they have low financial liquidity. The ministry will soon draw up plans to help SMEs cope with the situation.
Tanit Sorat, secretary-general of the Federation of Thai Industries, said yesterday that transport of imports and exports had not been affected much by the road blockages in Bangkok. Though the protesters had marched to block the entrance to the Customs Department, which is adjacent to Klong Toei Port, traders could pay their customs-clearance fees and taxes at Suvarnabhumi Airport through the department’s remote payment system.
"We still have no [major] problems with exports and imports. However, inland transport to and from the port has been inconvenienced as the roads nearby were blocked," Tanit said.
He added that if the roads were blocked for more than a week, it could result in low inventories of domestic goods.
Tipp Dalal, chief executive officer of Triple i Logistics Group, said that to avoid the road blockades in Bangkok, the group had persuaded its clients to move their containers to Laem Chabang instead of Klong Toei.
Poj Aramwattananont, president of the Thai Frozen Foods Association, said food shipments had not faced problems yet. However, some foreign buyers had questioned the ability of Thai exporters to deliver goods on time, and the exporters had tried to reassure them.
Sunchai Puranachaikere, president of the Thai Fresh Fruits Traders and Exporters Association, said shipments in that sector had not been affected as most of these goods were moved by air or via Laem Chabang.
He said the current shutdown in some areas might be causing difficulty for local fruit traders, but the impact was not severe yet because there are wholesale markets for fruits and vegetables outside Bangkok.