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Former WTO head supports Thai policies

Former Unctad secretary-general Supachai Panichpakdi says regional cooperation will strengthen Thailand and its neighbours.PATTARAPONG CHATPATTARASILL

The government's ongoing efforts to reform the economic and social structure of Thai society are moving in the right direction, says Supachai Panitchpakdi, a former secretary-general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad).

Nonetheless, he remains sceptical of the government's Pracha Rat (People's State) initiative, which brings about a collaborative network of the public and private sectors for the long-term development of the country, as the real benefits of the scheme may fall solely to large-scale companies, he said.

Mr Supachai called on the government to ensure that the benefits would be distributed among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), local businesses and civil society.

"The current government's strong commitment on social and economic reforms, which include tackling corruption, more transparency on customs procedures, addressing human trafficking, upgrading aviation standards, revamping education and amending laws and regulations to facilitate trade, investment and the ease of doing business have been lauded in the international forum, and I personally agree and support these efforts," he said yesterday at the launch of Unctad's Trade and Development Report for 2016 in Bangkok.

Mr Supachai praised the government's special economic zones (SEZs), and its promotion of 10 targeted industries, saying the policies would help stimulate investment and improve Thai industries.

He also said the government must ensure that policies should support SMEs, low-income earners and farmers, and provide easy access to advanced technology to help increase their incomes and improve their quality of life.

Cooperation among Thailand and Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam needs to be further prioritised to promote trade and investment to one another, he added.

A former World Trade Organization chief, Mr Supachai also called on Thailand to utilise multilateral trade blocs to cope with the global economic turbulence, particularly under the aegis of Asean.

"Asean members should put economic issue on the front burner rather than political front," Mr Supachai said. "The Thai government and Asean members should step up efforts to wrap up talks over the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership [RCEP] within one year and should not allow the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP] to dominate and disintegrate Asean."

RCEP was launched in November 2012 with the aim of establishing deeper economic cooperation between the 10 Asean members and six trade partners -- China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand -- representing US$9.5 trillion, or 29% of global trade. Twelve Pacific Rim countries concluded the TPP agreement last year, which encompasses 40% of global trade.

RCEP is viewed as an alternative to the TPP trade pact that includes the US, but excludes China. Last November, members voted to conclude the pact this year, but the Asean Summit in Laos earlier this month declared that they would skip this goal.

In a related development, Diana Barrowclough, an Unctad economist, said yesterday the stringent fiscal stance of many developed countries led to weak recovery from the global economic crisis.

A prolonged period of slow wage growth has lead to insufficient household demand and weak growth in productive investment, she said.

World economic growth may be less than 2.5% this year -- not enough to boost global consumption and bring about a recovery, Ms Barrowclough added.

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