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Thailand News: ASEAN begins to row back on AEC deadline – quietly

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Thailand News: ASEAN begins to row back on AEC deadline – quietly | The Thaiger
PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– Thailand news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Southeast Asia’s 2015 unity dream collides with reality
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Southeast Asian nations have quietly begun to row back on a deadline of forming an “economic community” by 2015, confirming what many economists and diplomats have suspected for years as the diverse group hits tough obstacles to closer union.

Rather than referring to the end of 2015 as a firm goal, officials at this year’s first summit of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), whose 10 members range from glitzy Singapore to impoverished Myanmar, prefer to call it a “milestone” to be built on in years ahead.

In so doing, they are bowing to the reality of slow progress and even some regression on politically sensitive goals, such as eliminating non-tariff barriers and lowering obstacles to the free flow of labor in the diverse region of 600 million people.

While failure to meet the ambitious goal, which was brought forward from 2020 originally, is no surprise, it risks undermining ASEAN’s credibility at a time when it faces unprecedented divisions over maritime disputes with China.

“Essentially ASEAN’s community-building is an ongoing process that will continue even after our 2015 milestones,” Brunei Prime Minister and Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah told a summit-concluding news conference on Thursday.

He acknowledged “challenges due to the varying levels of development amongst us”.

The summit’s final communiqué contained no specific commitment to the 2015 goal, saying that leaders had agreed to “leverage upon ongoing work to establish the AEC”, or ASEAN Economic Community.

The problems raise doubts over whether the group, whose renowned “consensus” approach is designed to protect national interests but also slows decision-making, can bridge yawning economic gaps between richer nations like Malaysia and newer, poorer members such as Myanmar and Laos.

“They are a long way off,” says Jayant Menon, a senior economist at the Asian Development Bank in Manila, referring to the “Mekong” nations of Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam.

“This kind of exercise – highly ambitious, short timelines – simply works to fracture the organisation further.”

Founded in 1967 in the midst of Cold War conflicts, insurgencies and coups in Southeast Asia, ASEAN has become the region’s most successful grouping, credited with preventing strife and promoting a surge in trade and investment.

But critics say it appears to be reaching the limits of its integration unless its decision-making and institutional powers are strengthened. The ASEAN Secretariat in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, less than 1 percent of the staff numbers at the European Commission, a reflection of governments’ reluctance to cede sovereignty.

“I think nobody will say that,” Philippine President Benigno Aquino told reporters earlier in the oil kingdom of Brunei, where the summit was held this week, when asked if the 2015 goal was now impossible, adding there was much work to be done.

His trade minister, Gregory Domingo, said non-tariff barriers remained the thorniest problem, suggesting that the pace of reform was being dictated by the slowest-moving members.

“We are liberalising on our own, but our liberalisation has to be in sync with others. Otherwise, if we liberalise too fast ahead of others, it will be to our disadvantage.”

Complex and unpredictable import standards in some countries – such as the number of bananas required in a bunch – were holding up the liberalisation of agriculture trade, he said.

Signs that the AEC was not going according to plan emerged last September at a meeting in Cambodia when a top official said its completion may be delayed to the end of 2015 rather than the beginning.

Tough steps

Investors and multinational executives are eager for ASEAN to accelerate its integration to give them better access to a big, youthful population and rapidly growing middle class at a time when Southeast Asia is a rare bright spot in the global economy.

But many voice disappointment that progress in harmonizing regulations has not kept pace with the rhetoric and with businesses’ own efforts to treat Southeast Asia as one market.

“Frankly, today you’re either local or foreign in most countries; there’s no ‘in-between’ when it comes to regulations,” Nazir Razak, the chief executive of Malaysia’s CIMB bank told Reuters in an interview in February. “It’s time we give substance to what ASEAN means, what it means to be ASEAN.”

ASEAN has made strong progress in some areas, reducing nearly all import tariffs among the wealthier six members to zero, for example, as it moves towards its goal of becoming a free-trade zone.

Overall, it says it has implemented 77.5 percent of AEC measures, up from 74.5 percent last October. But economists say the remaining 20 percent or so of steps are the tough ones, and that many agreed by ASEAN still face the hurdle of domestic ratification.

While formal tariffs have come down, other barriers to trade remain formidable, such as government protection for sensitive industries and sectors.

Malaysia, for example, has been reluctant to liberalise auto trade barriers for fear of competition from regional car-manufacturing powerhouse Thailand. The Philippines has kept in place heavy restrictions on foreign investors that critics say are aimed at shielding domestic businesses from competition.

Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, has taken a protectionist turn over the past year by capping foreign ownership of mines and introducing a 20 percent export tax on metal ores in an effort to boost its industry.

Domestic political pressures have limited steps to liberalise worker migration within ASEAN to a handful of professions.

As ASEAN plods along, it risks being overtaken by more nimble moves as Asian countries strike more favorable free-trade deals with countries globally, adding complexity to a so-called noodle soup of regional agreements.

Several ASEAN countries are aiming to join the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, which includes the United States.

“This is pulling in different directions,” said the ADB’s Menon. “I don’t know how this is all going to work out.”

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Business

500 people own 36% of equity in Thai companies

Greeley Pulitzer

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500 people own 36% of equity in Thai companies | The Thaiger

Roughly 36% of Thailand’s corporate equity is held by just 500 people, highlighting wealth inequality in the Kingdom, according to a study released by the Bank of Thailand’s research institute.

Each of these 500 amass some 3.1 billion baht (102 million USD) per year in company profits, according to the report from the Puey Ungphakorn Institute for Economic Research. In contrast, average yearly household income in Thailand is around 10,000 USD.

A report out this week from the Economic and Business Research Centre for Reform at Thailand’s Rangsit University also pointed to divisive and polarised politics being another root cause of the economic divide.

Thailand’s private sector is dominated by tycoons running sprawling conglomerates. According to the World Bank, the gap between the mega-wealthy and the rest of the Thai population of 69 million is among the many economic challenges for Thailand. According to Bloomberg, the perception of a divide, exacerbated by an economic slowdown, is a major political fault line.

“Magnates arise in Thailand from institutional factors that privilege certain businesses,” said the executive director of PIER, author of the study.

The institute said Thailand needs to promote competitiveness to reduce profits from monopoly power and bolster entrepreneurship to create a more equitable distribution of corporate wealth.

The research is based on analysis of 2017 Commerce Ministry data on the 2.1 million shareholders in Thai firms, and was funded by the University of California San Diego.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Politics

Survey – Thais not taking sides and 66% prioritise health care

The Thaiger

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Survey – Thais not taking sides and 66% prioritise health care | The Thaiger

The majority of respondents to a Super Poll survey, say that they are still waiting to see where they will put their future support. For now they’re saying they neither support the Government or Opposition, preferring to wait to assess their performance.

Super Poll conducted the survey on 1,069 people from a wide range of occupations nationwide between October 1519.

The director of Super Poll, Noppadol Kannikar, says that one interesting finding was that 67.2% of respondents admitted that they prefer not to take sides, with the Government or Opposition, because both are currently under-performing and they want to wait to assess their performance.

But 16.9% of the respondents are supportive of the coalition Government, compared to 15.9% who oppose it.

On the question of Government spending, the survey showed 65.9% want quality health care as their top priority, 59.8% want good and secure jobs, 54.3% want security for their lives and property, 50.8% want increased road safety, 48.2% want government help for small and medium-size enterprises and 37.0% want government to provide them with housing.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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Thai Life

Top 10 English news sources in Thailand (2019)

The Thaiger

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Top 10 English news sources in Thailand (2019) | The Thaiger

…in English, in no particular order.

This post is mainly for newbies, tourists and people-interested-in-Thailand. Locals already have their home favorite news sources. But all these Top 10 do it well, in their own way. All are trying to navigate their way through the labyrinth of modern media, some better than others, whilst punching out daily news. We think they’re all stars because doing media in Thailand, in English, is a tough gig.

These are all news and information sources and the list doesn’t include the myriad of excellent blogs around – a topic for another Top 10.

1. Bangkok Post

Traditional news, still delivered as a daily newspaper, but with an expansive and thorough website. It’s been going since 1946 and reported on a coup or two, or three. As far as making the move into digital media is concerned, Bangkok Post is doing it better than most. Editorially it has has taken a, mostly, neutral political stance with a few exceptions. But, as newspapers go, it walks down the middle fairly reliably. It is currently the leading English language news portal in Thailand and deserves its position on top.

2. The Thaiger

Please indulge us as we put our own website and news in the Top 10. The Thaiger, only running as a national website since April 2018, remains the fastest growing English-speaking online-only news and information site in the Kingdom (according to the ‘stats’).

The Thaiger curates the news and chooses topics it believes will be interesting, important or newsworthy, in English, Thai and now Vietnamese too. The Thaiger bought out the Phuket Gazette’s digital assets in August 2017 but now has a national and regional focus, whilst continuing to pay homage to its home turf in Phuket. Currently has the second highest readership of any English-speaking news website in Thailand.

3. The Nation

The Nation was the other major daily coming out of Bangkok, well for 48 years anyway, was a lot newer than Bangkok Post when it started up in 1971. The Nation took a more partisan line, famously turning its editorial voice against PM Thaksin Shinawatra. In latter years the paper struggled with circulation and was taken over by Sontiyan Chuenruetainaidhama, founder of conservative outlets T News and INN News. Falling circulation and advertising revenues eventual killed off the printed daily version. Final issue June 28, 2019. The Nation changed their domain name (suicidal) and continues as an online-only news source with an excellent coverage of local Thai politics.

4. ThaiVisa

Used to be the biggest and most popular news website in Thailand (in English). If it moves or breathes, you’d find the story on ThaiVisa. It’s full of news copied and pasted from partners who agree to share their news on the site. It’s also famous, or infamous, for its hugely popular forums where keyboard warriors dispense their opinions and wisdom on everything, usually tearing just about everything in Thailand to shreds. Whilst it was once the biggest English-speaking news website in Thailand for a decade it is now being challenged by new sources moving into the same web space. Plenty of info, a lot out of date, about visas and other snippets about living in Thailand.

5. Khaosod English

Fresh, selective, well-written and a rising star in real Thai english-language journalism. An offshoot of it’s much bigger Thai-language sister. To the point, original stories with a modern journalistic spark. They tend to choose their stories and provide excellent insight when they do. Original and deserving of your daily read.

6. Coconuts

Most would agree that when Coconuts started it was the best and cheekiest news blog for its time. Actually covering all of South East Asia, it’s Bangkok blog was a daily log-on for most hip expats. Now they’ve taken the brave ‘paywall’ option (because people want to pay for good journalism they say) which seems to have killed off some of their web traffic but the company says they will persist with the subscription model. In our opinion it’s lost a bit of its verve but it’s still a healthy and reliable daily read for Thailand and the region. Singapore it its most popular location, Thailand is third.

7. Thailand News

A shameless aggregator, they copy and paste headlines and a few paragraphs with a link to the original story. Designed to rank in Google, the site is still in its early days. To avoid any copyright issues, the stories usually include a photo library ‘look-a-like’, instead of the real photo from the story. For all we know the entire site could be run by cleverly-coded robots.

There is no sign of a human touch anywhere. Rather than a contributor to the world of Thai journalism, the site is just a parasite using everyone else’s news. Bottomline, it’s nicely set up and has, well, most of the stories around Thailand, all in one neat package.

8. Chiang Rai Times

Chiang Rai Time is a local website that is regularly updated, nicely laid out, aggregates most of the main international stories and has plenty of local news relevant to the residents of northern cities of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. You may notice a similarity with The Thaiger as they used the same WordPress theme – we’ll take it as a compliment. There’s also Chiang Mai City Life which is a bit less ‘newsie’ and has plenty of northern lifestyle info in addition to the local news.

9. The Pattaya News

Whilst the rest of Thailand does things one way, Pattaya does things differently, in every aspect, including its media. But The Pattaya News does a better job than most with daily content, some original, and translating stories from Thai media. Easy to navigate, clear and readable, unlike a lot of others!

10. Thai PBS World

A government news agency but has demonstrated its independence over the years. As a website it’s had more face-lifts than Joan Rivers but remains solid, reliable and surprisingly (especially as it’s run by a quasi-military government) unbiased. Also tends to cover stories the other news sources don’t.

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