Bt7 bn boost for Northeast backed

Economy December 14, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

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FIVE provinces in the upper-Northeast region have been given the go-ahead on plans for projects worth a combined Bt7 billion that will take in the development of an improved logistics system and better water resources management for agriculture and flood prevention, along with upgrades to manufacturing capabilities.

In all, the projects are being touted as improving the livelihoods of people in the region – designated as Area 1 – while also promoting tourism.

The multibillion-baht package was approved yesterday at a meeting on economic and social development for the five provinces: Bueng Kan, Loei, Nong Bua Lamphu, Nong Khai and Udon Thani. The meeting was chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Sawat Teeraratananukulchai, chairman of the Udon Thani Chamber of Commerce, said that, broken down, the projects aimed at bringing in development in five dimensions: logistics; water resources for agriculture and flood solutions; manufacturing upgrades and product value-adding; tourism; and people’s quality of life.

He said the projects would help equip the targeted provinces for the expected leap in the country’s economic growth in 2021, when key elements of the major transport projects would be completed. Some of the new transport links would pass through these provinces.

Among such projects are the Bangkok-Nong Khai double-track railway and the high-speed railway from southern China to the Lao capital Vientiane. These projects are expected to raise the number of Chinese tourists in Vientiane from 500,000 a year to at least 2 million. In turn, more Chinese are expected to cross the border into Thailand's upper-Northeastern provinces, where they will spend on accommodation, sightseeing and shopping.

The value of Thailand-Laos trade in the five provinces is expected to rise 10 per cent a year from 2019-21.

 “We want to push for this group of provinces to become the Isaan Economic Corridor or IEC. We've discussed this in detail and are preparing to propose that the next government give its support by focusing on raising capabilities in services and tourism, particularly tourism along Mekong River,” Sawat said.

The government's measures to boost tourism through visa-free initiatives and eased re-entry visas have led to a 4 per cent in visitor numbers so far.

In regard to the planned investment in infrastructure to cope with the to-be-expanded tourism and economy, Sawat said that Udon Thani province has proposed that the government support a plan for a Bt3-billion third terminal at Udon Thani airport. This project falls under a Ministry of Transport plan. Sawat also wants to see support for a planned Bt1.4-billion private sector-led dry port project for the purchasing of local agricultural products.

About 60 per cent of the infrastructure of Udon Thani industrial estate has been completed and a number of Chinese investors are keen to invest in the area, he said.

Wilawan Kanoksil, chairman of the Nong Khai Chamber of Commerce, said that the five upper-Northeastern provinces had teamed up for a collective pitch on the projects related to economic development and people's quality of life. Among the priority projects is for a logistics system, especially for a Mekong River rail crossing to shorten the travel time to Vientiane, and a 139-kilometre route from Udon Thani to Bueng Kan. Details for both projects will likely be studied next year.

Other logistics projects approved include studies for bypass roads for Loei province and Chiang Kan, investment in an integrated transport system for tourism within the group of provinces, and the construction of a port along Mekong River.

Puttipong Punnakanta, deputy secretary-general to the Prime Minister, said the Transport Minister had reported to the meeting on details for the major transport projects benefiting the five provinces. The Bangkok-Nong Khai double-track rail project, worth about Bt26.65 billion, is included and has been prepared in detail. The report is expected to be forwarded to a Cabinet meeting in January.

Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Kritsada Bunrat said that amid a decline in both demand and prices for rubber, the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Finance have discussed solutions. Possible remedies include the determination of the central construction models and a manual for construction of roads mixed with rubber for local administrative organisations' planned para-soil cement roads.

 It is planned that all villages, 75,032 in total, will each construct one kilometre of such rubber-mixed road, under the government's efforts to stabilise rubber prices over the long term. No less than one million tonnes of rubber are expected to be used on such road construction in the villages.