BANGKOK – Thailand’s deputy prime minister said Tuesday he wants to see greater Japanese investment in Thailand and expressed optimism that his nation will one day join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.
Speaking with Japanese media the day before his first official visit to Japan since his appointment as deputy prime minister — a portfolio that includes heading the country’s economic policy — Somkid Jatusripitak said he wants Japan to support Thailand’s membership of TPP. He noted, however, that there are obstacles to membership.
“TPP is the coalition that will bring a lot of benefits to trade and investment. When we see the benefits of it, we can solve the existing difficulties step by step. If we set the obstacle as the principal, then we cannot do anything,” Somkid said. “TPP is an extension of the connectivity in Asia to other regions in the world. It will bring about absolute benefits to the region.”
Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha previously assigned the commerce ministry with carrying out an extensive study of the positive and negative outcomes of membership of TPP. Concerns include the effects on Thailand’s pharmaceutical sector and agriculture.
During his first official trip to Japan, Somkid will also seek cooperation from both the Japanese government and the private sector in 10 areas.
“I was appointed by the Cabinet to preside over a special fund to provide ultraspecial incentives to highly selected firms who are specialized in those industrial clusters,” Somkid said, referring to groupings such as aviation, logistics and the automotive sector.
Besides a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and prominent business figures, Somkid will be accompanied by six ministers from the transport, commerce, industry, science and technology, and tourism and sports ministries for the first such meeting at this level between the Thai and Japanese government.
He is scheduled to speak to more than a thousand Japanese investors about Thailand’s new economic policy and infrastructure projects. A business matching event between Thai and Japanese entrepreneurs will be held as a side event.
Thai Commerce Minister Apiradi Tantraporn will discuss potential TPP membership with Akira Amari, the minister in charge of the trade agreement.
Meanwhile a memorandum of cooperation will be signed by Thai Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith and Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Keiichi Ishii, with the aim of improving existing rail routes between Thailand’s Laem Chabang seaport and Sakaeo, Bangkok and Kanchanaburi, as well as links to Myanmar’s Dawei special economic zone. Arkhom will also agree to convert the route to double-track.
“The southern corridor is actually our first priority, because it can be the logistic route to deliver goods to Myanmar,” Somkid said. “The transport minister is in talks with Japan to invest in the line.”
“I have asked (special adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe) Hiroto Izumi to rush the Dawei and other projects,” he said. “Japan likes to be slow but sure, but can Japan be fast and sure?”
Additionally, Somkid and the ministers will visit The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology and Yokohama’s base of the Japan Transport Engineering Co., the manufacturer of city trains for Thailand’s Purple Line railway.
Japan is Thailand’s top foreign investor, but only its second largest trade partner after it was topped by China in 2013. Trade volume between the two countries during the first nine months of this year exceeded $39 billion, according to the Thai Commerce Ministry.
Somkid will spend four days in Japan. He said he has visited the country countless times and expressed fondness for its hot springs. He added, he plans to celebrate the New Year in the city of Nagano.
“I like Japan because I am happy every time I visit the country,” he said. “I hope this visit will renew our countries’ economic ties to be closer than ever.”