January 24, 2017 01:00 By PICHAYA CHANGSORN THE NATION
THE GOVERNMENT yesterday announced the launch of its ambitious “bio-economy” scheme, which it expects to draw Bt400 billion worth of investment from the private sector during the next 10 years.
Speaking at the signing ceremony for a memorandum of understanding between the public and private sectors and educational and research institutes to kick off the programme, Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak said the planned “Biopolis”, a core part of the scheme, would be better than Singapore’s, since unlike that country, Thailand could leverage on its agricultural sector.
Bio-industry is one of the 10 targeted industries that the government is striving to promote as new economic growth engines.
Prasert Bunsumpun, chairman of PTT Global Chemical, in his capacity as private-sector head of the steering committee on cluster development for new growth industries, said the project would be implemented in three phases.
The first phase from this year to next year will involve a total investment of Bt51 billion; during the second phase from 2019-2021 investment will total Bt182 billion; and the final phase from 2022 to 2026 will involve total investment of Bt132 billion.
Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana said the investment was expected to come from domestic and foreign investors interested in bio-industry projects that would turn economic crops into high-value products. These would include bio-energy (such as ethanol and biomass power), bio-plastics, “food and feed of the future”, which will produce ingredients to substitute for chemicals, and biopharmaceuticals.
Uttama said PTT and other private investors were “nearly committed” to investing in the first-phase projects that would be located in Rayong, where there are already some refining facilities, beginning with two economic crops, sugar cane and tapioca.He said the government would be ready to discuss extra incentives to offer to each investor in targeted industries. Bio-economy projects will be among the first that the government backs in the Eastern Economic Corridor with a total of Bt1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. A detailed master plan of the EEC is expected to be finalised next month, Uttama said.
He said bio-economy was a global trend, and the World Economic Forum had estimated its potential value chain at more than 200 billion euros (Bt7.5 trillion) by 2020.
In his keynote speech, Somkid said pursuing the bio-economy scheme meant authorities must “aim high” to expand its coverage to all crops and regions and to beat Singapore’s Biopolis, as well as to focus on “inclusive growth”.
“We’re doing all these things not because of the private sector but for the farmers. So whatever we do, |we must think of what farmers will get. Don’t destroy the ecology, and the livelihood of the people,” he said.
The government expects to see concrete projects coming up by the end of this year, he added.
According to an official release, the bio-economy scheme is expected to add Bt300 billion annually |of extra value to the sugar-cane industry and Bt100 billion to tapioca, and increase farmers’ incomes by Bt75,000 per person per year, by the end of the 10-year programme.
Energy Minister Anantaporn Kanjanarat said bio-energy was not new, as the ministry has supported ethanol and bio-diesel projects, but their higher costs have had to be borne by motorists. Hence he hopes the new scheme will induce investment in higher-efficiency biofuel factories.