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Thailand – Abundant Opportunities in ASEAN

COUNTRY FACTSHEET THAILAND


1. COUNTRY INTRODUCTION:

Country Profiles - ThailandThailand, the second largest economy in ASEAN after Indonesia, is an upper middle-income country with an open economy and a gross domestic product (GDP) of USD 387 billion / EUR 366 billion in 2015. In May 2014, the Thai military suspended the constitution and took control of the government in a coup d’état. Reforms have been ongoing as a new constitution is drafted. The current administration has announced its intent to hold general elections in mid-2017 once the constitution is approved. With minimal growth in 2015 and a third year of declining exports, Thailand’s economy has remained stagnant. While Thailand’s financial markets weathered global financial volatility relatively well in 2015, the recovery is expected to only strengthen moderately, with real GDP growth projected at 3% in 2016 and 3.2% in 2017. A slight improvement in business confidence, low energy prices, and increased government spending resulted in a recent uptick in private consumption. The government has pledged to spend USD 50.2 billion / EUR 47.4 billion through 2018 on the construction of twenty infrastructure projects covering rail, roads, air transport and ports. Financing will come from various sources including government spending and public-private partnerships.
With a well-developed infrastructure, a free-enterprise economy, and generally pro-investment policies, Thailand historically has had a strong economy. An export-dependent economy, Thailand exported a total of USD 210.9 billion / EUR 199.2 billion worth of goods in 2015, a decrease of 5.6% from 2014. The United States was Thailand’s No. 1 export market (11.2%), followed by China (11.1%) and Japan (9.4%). The top ten export items were machinery (17.6%), electronics appliances (13.9%), vehicles and automotive parts (12.6%), rubber (5.8%), plastic (5.6%), gems and jewellery (5.1%), oil (3.9%), meat and seafood (2.8%), medical device and supplies (2.5%) and cereals (2.2%). Thailand is one of the world’s most visited countries and tourism is vital to the Thai economy, contributing approximately 10% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2015, Thailand recorded 29.88 million tourist arrivals, a 20.4% increase over 2014, and the government aims to attract a record 33 million visitors in 2016. Following the May 2014 coup d’état, tourism decreased 6-7% but is beginning to recover. The Thai baht depreciated more than 8% during 2015. Thailand faces labour shortages, and has attracted an estimated 2-4 million migrant workers from neighbouring countries. The government in 2013 implemented a nationwide 300 baht (roughly EUR 8) per day minimum wage, and deployed new tax reforms designed to lower rates on middle-income earners.

 

2. KEY ECONOMIC DATA:

Population: 68.20 million
GDP (Current US$): US$ $390.59 billion / EUR 368.93 billion1
GDP (Current US$, per capita): US$ 5,662.00 / EUR 5,348.00
GDP (PPP): US$ 1.161 trillion / EUR 1.097
GDP (PPP, per capita): US$ 16,835.00 / EUR 15,902.00
Real GDP Growth: 3.2% year-on-year
Consumer Price Index (CPI): 0.3%
Labour Force: 38.45 million
Unemployment Rate: 0.9%
Main Industries: Tourism, textiles and garments, agricultural processing, beverages, tobacco, cement, light manufacturing such as jewellery and electric appliances, computers and parts, integrated circuits, furniture, plastics, automobiles and automotive parts, agricultural
Main Exports: Automobiles and parts, computer and parts, jewellery and precious stones, polymers of ethylene in primary forms, refined fuels, electronic integrated circuits, chemical products, rice, fish products, rubber products, sugar, cassava, poultry, machinery
Exports Partners: US 11.2%, China 11.1%, Japan 9.4%, Hong Kong 5.5%, Malaysia 4.8%, Australia 4.6%, Vietnam 4.2%, Singapore 4.1% (2015)
Main Imports: Machinery and parts, crude oil, electrical machinery and parts, chemicals, iron and steel and product, electronic integrated circuit, automobile’s parts, jewellery including silver bars and gold, computers and parts, electrical household appliances, soybean
Imports Partners: China 20.3%, Japan 15.4%, US 6.9%, Malaysia 5.9%, UAE 4% (2015)
Currency: Thai baht (THB)
Ethnic groups: Thai 95.9%, Burmese 2%, other 1.3%, unspecified 0.9%
Religions: Buddhist (official) 93.6%, Muslim 4.9%, Christian 1.2%, other 0.2%, none 0.1%
Languages: Thai (official) 90.7%, Burmese 1.3%, other 8%. English is a secondary language of the elite.
Literacy Rate: 96.7%

1 All exchange rates as of March 2017
 

3. BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT:

High tariffs in many sectors remain an impediment to market access. While Thailand’s average applied most favoured nation (MFN) rate averaged 10.7 percent in 2014, ad valorem tariffs can be as high as 50 to 80 percent, and the ad valorem equivalent of some specific tariffs (charged mostly on agricultural products) is even higher. About one-third of Thailand’s MFN tariff schedule involves duties of less than 5%, and almost 30% of tariff lines are MFN duty free, including for products such as chemicals, electronics, industrial machinery, and paper. Thailand has bound all tariffs on agricultural products in the WTO, but only approximately 70% of its tariff lines on industrial products. The highest ad valorem tariff rates apply to imports competing with locally produced goods, such as automobiles and automotive parts, motorcycles, beef, pork, poultry, tea, tobacco, flowers, wine, beer and spirits, and textiles and apparel.
Corruption and lack of transparency in government procurements are major concerns for foreign companies. Where corruption is suspected during the bidding process, government agencies and state enterprises reserve the right to accept or reject any or all bids at any time and may also modify the technical requirements. This allows considerable leeway for government agencies and state-owned enterprises to manage procurements, while denying bidders recourse to challenge procedures. There are frequent allegations that the Thai government makes changes to technical requirements for this purpose during the course of procurements. Despite a Thai government commitment to transparency in government procurement, foreign companies and the Thai media continue to report allegations of irregularities. Thailand is not party to the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Government Procurement; it obtained observer status in June 2015.
Customs law in Thailand does not fulfil the standards established by The International Convention on the Simplification and Harmonisation of Customs Procedures, otherwise known as “the Kyoto Convention.” Major problem areas include Thailand’s Customs Penalty Regime and Customs Valuation Procedures. The penalty for undervaluing imports into Thailand, even if done through negligence or by mistake, can be accompanied by a prison sentence up to ten years. The system is incentivised by the distribution of rewards from these penalty payments to customs officials involved in the investigation of each case. Additionally, the procedure for determining “Customs Value” remains opaque as the valuation methodologies, determined by Ministerial Regulations, are subject to frequent change. Confusion over the guidelines can lead to increased risk of misinterpretation and misapplication of goods valuation methods.
Foreign businesses operating in Thailand should be aware that the government recently amended its Civil Procedure Code to include class-action lawsuit provisions. This increases rule of law and consumer protection in Thailand, but may leave some businesses at higher risk. This may result in higher insurance premiums, especially for small businesses. Furthermore, the regulatory environment protecting intellectual property in Thailand is at times difficult to navigate. Patent registration can be a lengthy process, sometimes requiring several years. Patent and trademark infringement is common in Thailand. Foreign companies have successfully protected their intellectual property through litigation in the Thai courts, but these cases can be costly and time-consuming.

4. MARKET OPPORTUNITIES:

Thailand maintains a market-oriented economy, and encourages foreign direct investment as a means of promoting economic development, employment, and technology transfer. The government focusses on five strategic clusters: the automotive industry, food industry, tourism, textile industry and software development. Thailand continues to be a prominent destination for foreign direct investment, and many European multinational and small and medium-sized companies alike have invested successfully in the country. Thailand continues to welcome investment from all countries and seeks to avoid dependence on any one country as a source of investment. Thailand’s economic growth has created opportunities for companies in a number of infrastructure sectors including electrical power, telecommunications, and renewable energy. Thai consumers are also creating opportunities for sales of medical products, automotive accessories, agricultural equipment and chemicals, cosmetics, food supplements, outdoor recreation equipment, franchising and educational services among others. Thailand also continues to look for suppliers of aerospace and defence equipment, broadcast equipment, food processing, packaging equipment, and environmental technologies.

 

5. SOURCES:

Country Introduction & Key Economic Data:

The World Factbook: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/th.html
Statistical information: http://unctadstat.unctad.org/CountryProfile/GeneralProfile/en-GB/764/index.html
Economist Intelligence Unit Country Reports: http://country.eiu.com/thailand
Knoema “World Data Atlas”: https://knoema.com/atlas/thailand

Business Environment & Market Opportunities:

Country Commercial Guide: http://2016.export.gov/THAILAND/doingbusiness/index.asp#P24_8166

International Rankings:

IFC/World Bank “Doing Business” Report 2017 – Ranked 46 / 191:
http://www.doingbusiness.org/~/media/wbg/doingbusiness/documents/profiles/country/tha.pdf
Transparency International “Corruption Perception Index” – Ranked 101 / 176:
http://www.transparency.org/country/THA
World Economic Form – Global Competitiveness Report (2016/2017) – Ranked 34 / 138: http://reports.weforum.org/global-competitiveness-index/country-profiles/#economy=THA

 

ASEAN Business Partners has – both in Germany as well as in Thailand – excellent contacts with the BOI and to other organizations and government agencies. Combined with our long-standing legal, financial and management know-how, we can be your one-stop shop for doing business in Thailand.

 

Useful Links:

https://country.eiu.com/thailand

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/th.html

http://www.adb.org/publications/thailand-fact-sheet

http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/thailand

http://www.asidnet.org/web/

http://countrystudies.us/thailand/

http://cpi.transparency.org/cpi2013/results/

http://www.weforum.org/reports/global-competitiveness-report-2013-2014

 

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