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Former WTO director cautions against re-opening Thailand too quickly

Maya Taylor

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PHOTO: Bao Menglong on Unsplash

The former director general of the World Trade Organisation has issued a caution against Thailand throwing open its borders too early. Supachai Panitchpakdi says Covid-19 is still very much a threat, pointing to other countries that appear trapped in a cycle of easing restrictions, followed by renewed lockdowns. His comments come as England emerges from a national lockdown, only for many areas to find themselves subject to even tougher measures, at least until Christmas.

According to a Nation Thailand report, Supachai says the cycle of lockdown/open up/lockdown that’s being seen in many Western countries is not just damaging their economies, it’s also leading to more infections and deaths. He warns that re-opening Thailand’s borders too quickly could have long-term negative impacts for the Kingdom.

“Thailand should gradually open the country, because human resources are the most important factor. It takes about 20 to 30 years for human development, and if those people die, it will be very difficult to restore the lost human resources.”

Within Thailand there is a polarised view as to whether Thailand should be broadly re-opening its borders or not. Successive polls show that the Thai population is, generally, suspicious about re-opening too soon, especially whilst parts of the rest of the world are still trying to contain their infection rates. On the other hand Thailand’s tourism and hospitality industry has been decimated with millions unemployed.

Supachai’s comments come as the government has tentatively opened the borders to foreign tourists, albeit at a significant cost and inconvenience to those who might want to visit. There is both a long term STV, special tourist visa, and a modified general tourist visa for up to 60 days. In both cases there is currently a 14 day mandatory quarantine to be served and a number of other paperwork hurdles to overcome.

Supachai says Thailand’s economy is likely to shrink by 5 or 6% this year, a change from the previous forecast of 7 or 8%. He adds that he’s hopeful the economy and exports will recover next year, pointing out that if a quick recovery is seen in China and ASEAN nations, it will help Thai exports. He warns that an appreciating baht could threaten Thailand’s exports and that exporters will need to look at ways of increasing their competitive edge.

He has also called for a hike in interest rates, pointing out that the low rate of 0.5% is having a detrimental effect on people’s savings. Another fallout from the pandemic is an increase in household debt, with Supachai expressing concern that Thai people are getting into debt at a much younger age compared to the trend in other countries.

SOURCE: Nation Thailand

 

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