The Thai Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum Wednesday for political party leaders to share their visions for upgrading the country’s competitiveness.
Thailand climbed two spots to 38th place out of 140 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Competitiveness Report, putting it third in Asean behind Singapore and Malaysia.
Over the past four years, the government has sped up investment in public infrastructure projects worth more than 2.4 trillion baht, including rail network development, special economic zones and increased spending on R&D.
Government promotion of R&D over the past three years saw spending in the segment reach 1% of GDP in 2018, up from 0.75% in 2017 and 0.62% in 2015, according to the National Economic and Social Development Council.
For two decades, expenditure on R&D and innovation never exceeded 0.25% of GDP, until spending began to increase over the past five years. The government is committed under its 20-year strategic plan to raising R&D expenditure to 2% of GDP by 2036.
The plan calls for the private sector to provide 80% of R&D spending by 2036 (it accounts for 70% now).
Pokin Polakul, a key figure in the Pheu Thai Party and former parliament president, said new city planning is desperately needed to promote community-based tourism and empower small-scale entrepreneurs to stay afloat and gain greater and easier access to new technology.
Mr Pokin said his party is committed to raising spending on R&D to more than 2% of GDP and offering a free visa to Chinese tourists while tackling existing laws and regulations that hamper the ease of doing business.
Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul said his party’s policy to raise competitiveness includes reducing overlapping regulations and processes and revoking unnecessary laws and regulations to facilitate trade and investment.
Having fewer rules for starting a business should stimulate investment, while outdated restrictions on new businesses such as Grab and Airbnb should be dismantled, Mr Anutin said.
A profit-sharing system would also be introduced to address falling crop prices, while cannabis farming should be deregulated and promoted as a new cash crop to raise people’s income, he said.
Veerayooth Kanchoochat, an economic adviser to the Future Forward Party, said multilateral and bilateral trade negotiations should be pursued, while market dominance in domestic businesses should be tackled to protect small-scale entrepreneurs.
Technology development should be focused particularly on electric buses and other electric vehicles made in Thailand to serve public transport, Mr Veerayooth said.
Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said his party will initiate 12 metropolises nationwide to spread prosperity and reduce income inequality.
“Khon Kaen, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Surat Thani, for example, should be promoted as metropolises, and locals can elect their own administrations,” Mr Abhisit said.
He said Thailand should revamp many laws, some of which are not actively enforced but remain obstacles to business activity.
“This can ease doing business in Thailand, as well as increase the country’s efficiency and competition,” the former prime minister said.
Palang Pracharath leader Uttama Savanayana said the economy has to be restructured with policies that attract more foreign investment.
He said the party will carry on with the current 20-year national strategic plan, as well as speed up megaprojects.
“Thai l abour skills should be improved to meet fast-coming high technology and i nnovation,” Mr Uttama said.
Chart Pattana chief strategist Suwat Liptapanlop said his party will focus on 5G adoption as a key driver of the economy.
“5G technology will change many business sectors and economic aspects,” Mr Suwat said.