Officials sink Thaksin’s duty-free dream

PHUKET: Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has accepted that his recently-stated plan to turn Phuket into a duty-free island is an impossible dream, Manit Wittayatin, Director-General of the country’s Customs Department, told a meeting of high-ranking provincial officials today. K. Manit explained that at the most recent meeting held in Bangkok to discuss this matter, the Prime Minister initially stressed that he very much wanted to make Phuket duty-free, and grilled officials on why they felt this was impossible. The departments involved, such as the Excise Department and the Customs Department, pointed out two major stumbling blocks – complaints from other provinces about the lack of equal opportunity, and the problems inherent in altering many existing laws. “After this consultation, Prime Minister Thaksin accepted that Phuket cannot become duty-free,” K. Manit told the meeting at the Provincial Treasury Department. “What we are working on now are ways to increase the number of duty-free shops; now there are only two at the airport and two in town. “The regulations that govern the opening of a duty-free shop were changed last month. The capital required to open such a business has been cut from five million baht to one million, and we have reduced the size of the secure warehouse that each duty-free business must have if it wishes to import goods duty-free. “In addition, we will set aside part of the Customs section at the airport to create a bonded warehouse from which duty-free shops may collect shipments.” Governor Pongpayome Vasaputi, who chaired the meeting, commented, “Phuket’s primary reputation is as a beautiful resort island. Duty-free shops are one way to support tourism, but duty-free shopping should not be the main image of the island.”

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