UNDETERRED by its past failures to win local support for infrastructure mega-projects in the South, the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) has come up with a fresh proposal that envisages a sweeping economic zone modelled on the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC).
Thosaporn Sirisumphand, the newly appointed secretary-general of the state think tank, said the first draft for a Southern Economic Corridor (SEC) had been completed and a revised version would be submitted to the Cabinet for its mobile meeting for Chumphon and Ranong provinces on August 20-21.
The Board of Investment is expected to give tax and other incentives for investment in the southern part of the country, said Thosaporn, whose organisation expects growth in the national economy to largely track the 4.8 per cent pace logged for the first quarter - the best performance in five years.
He said the SEC could operate in parallel with the EEC, even though the latter is mapped out as larger and the plans more advanced.
“We will build on what we already have in the South, such as tourism and the palm oil industry, so the zone can move forward along with the EEC,” he said. The South produces about 12 million tonnes of palm oil a year.
New tourist destinations would be developed, such as in Pattalung, which has high potential to be marketed alongside established popular places like Phuket, Krabi and Phang Nga provinces and Hua Hin district in Prachuap Khiri Khan. Pattalung is well-known for its shadow puppet performances and ecologically rich mangrove forest.
The SEC would also see the deep-sea port in Ranong revitalised after a long period of under-utilisation, Thosaporn said.
The palm oil industry has the potential to be further developed for high value-added products such as heat insulation. For the latter, the resulting products could be substituted for heat insulation made of petroleum-based materials, Thosaporn said.
He said that, in the past, proposals for mega-projects, such as a complex to serve as a refinery hub, were opposed by local communities. But the latest vision for an SEC would not focus on the big projects that had already proved unpopular.
A double-track railway would be extended from Chumphon to Narong province and enable a connection to Myanmar, Thosaporn said.
The construction of the rail project is expected to be completed in 2022.
The NESDB will also propose to the government that it support the development of manufacturing capability for railway-related equipment, such as rail tracks, in the Northeast as the country is expected to rely more on rail transport in the future, given the many new projects that are under construction or planned.
Further, Thosaporn said the NESDB will support the government in its goal of drafting 37 development master plans that form an integral part of the government’s 20-year national strategy.
It will take a few months to create these master plans. A public hearing would then be held on September 27 in order for the government to gauge the response of communities, Thosaporn said.
The government is expected to begin the task of allocating funds for works in the master plans in the 2020 fiscal year.
On the broader economic front, NESDB deputy secretary-general of Wichayayuth Boonchit said the expectations for second-quarter expansion in gross domestic product were robust, with growth to be similar to sizzling pace of the first quarter.
The trade war between the United States and China would have only a limited impact on the Thai economy, he said. Exports, government spending, private investment and tourism have been the main drivers of the economy. The impact of the floods this year would be less severe than seen last year, Wichayayuth said.
The NESDB will release the country’s economic report for the second quarter on August 20.