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Economy to top agenda during Japan PM's visit

High-speed train and flood-prevention projects to figure in discussions with Yingluck

Newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will focus on economic cooperation with Thailand as part of his regional strategic move when he visits the Kingdom next week during a tour of three Asean countries, his first official visit since assuming power.

Despite a labour shortage and its high cost, Thailand's atmosphere remained good for investment and other economic cooperation, Japan's ambassador to Thailand, Shigekazu Sato, said.

Japanese investors in Thailand were pleased to comply with the Thai government's high-wage policy although it might affect investment cost, he said.

The hawkish Abe, who has taken a tough stance against China on their territorial dispute, apparently wants to boost Japan's role in the region in rivalry with Beijing.

Abe will discuss with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra cooperation on a high-speed train project and flood-prevention schemes. Previously, leaders from China had also expressed interest in investing in Thailand.

Abe and his wife will visit Thailand on January 17-18, the Foreign Ministry's Department of East Asian Affairs director-general Damrong Kraikruan said.

It will be the first official visit by a Japanese prime minister to Thailand in 11 years, after Junichiro Koizumi's visit in 2003. The two countries have had diplomatic relations for 125 years.

The trip is part of Abe's effort to strengthen ties with three Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia and Vietnam. Abe will discuss a wide range of bilateral and multilateral regional cooperation issues with Yingluck, including Thailand's infrastructure development, the high-speed train, and flood-prevention projects.

They will also discuss collaboration on human resource development, Damrong said.

The two sides will also discuss ways to contribute to the prosperity, peace and sustainable development of the region through the Asean-Japan Dialogue Partnership, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, the Mekong-Japan cooperation framework and other regional frameworks, focusing on connectivity, community-building and cooperation.

Ambassador Sato held discussions with Labour Minister Phadermchai Sasomsap yesterday on the wage policy, which would affect the investment cost of Japanese firms in Thailand.

The Japanese government would take the problem of Japanese investors into account and would seek a solution for them, he said.

Many investors might be affected by the Bt300 minimum wage but many of them, notably Japanese automobile firms, benefit from the first-car policy, he said.

Thailand and Japan are important economic partners, benefiting from the JTEPA (Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement), according to a statement by the Thai Foreign Ministry.

In 2012 (January - November), bilateral trade value reached Bt2.11 trillion. Japan is Thailand's biggest trading partner while Thailand is currently Japan's sixth-biggest trading partner.

Japan is Thailand's biggest source of foreign direct investment, totalling Bt312 billion, or 63 per cent of total FDI in Thailand. Japan is currently Thailand's third-largest source of tourists, after Malaysia and China. In 2012 (January-November), 1,239,555 Japanese visited Thailand while a total of 211,076 Thais visited Japan in the same period, a 62.4-per-cent increase from the previous year.

Presently, there are 40,957 Thais living in Japan, while 47,251 Japanese people live in Thailand.


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