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Business deals

Thai unicorn Flash Express partners with AIF Group in Laos

E-commerce startup looks to expand later in Cambodia and Vietnam using Lao network

Thai e-commerce unicorn Flash Express is joining with AIF Group to develop Laos market.  (Photo courtesy of the company) 

BANGKOK -- Flash Express, an e-commerce startup and Thailand's sole unicorn at present, has entered a joint-venture with Lao conglomerate AIF Group to expand logistics in the fabled Land of a Thousand Elephants. 

Flash Laos will start out in Vientiane, the Lao capital, serving the booming cross-border e-commerce with Thailand before expanding to other parts of the landlocked communist state, Flash Express Chief Executive Komsan Lee said on Thursday. 

The initial focus will be business to business and business to consumers, but a consumer-to-consumer platform will be established in the second phase to serve online shoppers, Komsan said.

Few Lao factories produce consumer goods, so the country depends heavily on imports, mostly from Thailand. It brings in around $6.5 billion's worth each year, of which nearly half -- $3.2 billion -- comes from Thailand.

According to Thailand's Commerce Ministry, border trade with Laos in 2020 was worth 197 billion baht ($6 billion). It has been growing with help from online platforms that have been enhanced by the Lao government's development of fourth-generation telecom infrastructure.

Around 15% of people in Laos have internet access. The younger generation, better educated people and expats have taken to Facebook and  online shopping platforms, and there is significant room for e-commerce growth. 

AIF Group is one of the largest and most diversified business groups in Laos with 3,000 employees spread across 17 countries. It has land and air logistical capacity, and is also involved in banking and financial services; energy and utilities; construction, property and infrastructure;  telecoms and technology; trading; and agriculture. Apart from Laos, it has significant operations in Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The AIF network is expected to facilitate expansion of Flash logistics into neighboring Cambodia and Vietnam, both of which are also seeing growing e-commerce. Opportunities in Myanmar, the fourth CLMV country, are likely to be more limited in the foreseeable future. 

Thailand meanwhile continues to work on its infrastructure, which benefits regional logistics, Rithikone Phoummasack, chairman of AIF Group, said. 

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