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Economy

Thai parliament passes Eastern Economic Corridor law

Passage seen soothing investor fears and bringing in $9.4bn in funding

Laem Chabang port, in Chonburi Province, Thailand (Photo by Keiichiro Asahara)

BANGKOK -- Thailand's parliament has approved a much-awaited law meant to attract investment to the Eastern Economic Corridor, a series of economic zones that the government has large hopes for.

The National Legislative Assembly's approval could bring about massive infrastructure investments. The Thai government aims to attract at least 300 billion baht ($9.4 billion) of new investment to the corridor this year, according to Kanit Sangsubhan, secretary general of the EEC Office.

"This will ensure both Thai and foreign investors that the EEC project is a long-term investment-promotion policy that will definitely continue, although this current government is to step down after the incoming general election," Kanit said.

Kanit was referring to special economic zones covering more than 48 million sq. meters in the three eastern provinces of Chonburi, Rayong and Chachoengsao.

He said the EEC law is expected to be officially implemented after winning the endorsement of King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun. This could come this month or next. By then, the ECC Committee, chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, will govern all operations in and management of the economic zones.

The EEC Committee has 14 ministers who oversee security, economic and social issues. It also includes representatives from the private sector. These representatives hail from the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Thai Industries and the Thai Bankers Association. Their job is to ensure that all economic zone developments are in line with the needs of the government, private sector, the environment and local communities, Kanit said.

Before the EEC law was passed, the Prayut administration imposed the interim constitution's powerful Section 44, which gives the military sway over every issue, to push the economic zones ahead.

The government expects Thailand's economy to grow 4.2% this year but is desperate for new engines of growth. For that, it needs investment.

However, the implementation of Section 44 raised concerns among foreign investors. It worried them that the EEC project would be short-lived or even fizzle out if the military government were to step down. As a result, many are said to have held back funding.

Kanit said the EEC law will help ensure that five major infrastructure projects go ahead -- a high-speed train, the expansion of the Laem Chabang deep seaport, the expansion of the Map Thaput deep seaport, the development of U-Thapao commercial airport and the joint-venture between Airbus and Thai Airways that will build maintenance facility near U-Thapao airport.

"The implementation of the EEC law will help accelerate" matters, Kanit said. "And construction of all five projects is scheduled to finish by 2022."

The government is considering a series of roadshows to drum up investment in the economic zones. Shows could take place in Japan, China, Europe and the United States.

The targeted 300 billion baht of new EEC investment is about 40% of Thailand's total new investment target for this year, 720 billion baht. The target is set by the country's Board of Investment.

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