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International relations

Thailand woos South Korean investment

Deputy prime minister offers door to growing Mekong subregion

Thailand's largest deep-water port, in Laem Chabang, along the country's Eastern Economic Corridor, is expanding with a new 1.7km-long terminal. (Photo by Takaki Kashiwabara)

BANGKOK -- With cumulative investment from South Korea at a lower-than-expected level, the Thai government plans to go on a charm offensive.

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak said as much on Thursday during the Korean-Thai forum, joined by more than 400 businesspeople.

Somkid said he was "surprised that Korean investment in Thailand is very low," and the Thai government "will work closely with Korean partners ... to accelerate Korean investment value in Thailand."

Somkid said Thailand is at the center of the fast-growing Mekong subregion, which also includes Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. As such, Somkid said, Thailand can well serve South Korean companies that want to expand their businesses in the subregion.

He said Thailand will host a summit of the five countries on June 15-16, and that the partners will draft a master plan aimed at boosting the subregion's economy as a whole. Economic development cooperation and transportation links will be on the agenda.

"This would help increase confidence among our Korean partners that Thailand is the center of a growing economic zone worth investing in," Somkid said, adding that Thailand's Eastern Economic Corridor project will act as a gateway to the subregion.

The EEC is designed to attract foreign capital in the biochemical, petrochemical, robotic, aviation and electric vehicle sectors. To get it going, Thailand is dangling tax breaks, 99-year land leases, easier visa procedures for foreign professionals, speedy investment approvals and other measures.

A new port will open near the zone in June, and Thailand is ready with more public investment to further upgrade the area's infrastructure.

Somkid said corporate South Korea has several technologies that would fit well in the EEC. He said South Korean companies that bring these technologies and new investments to the EEC would create a win-win situation.

South Korean companies in 2017 invested 3.2 billion baht in Thailand, a drop from 8.9 billion baht the previous year and well below the amount of cash Japan poured into the country, according to Thailand's Board of Investment. Japan was Thailand's biggest foreign investor last year at 133 billion baht, and Somkid recently said how fond he is of the nation.

Since 2010, South Korea has invested a cumulative 38 billion baht in Thailand, making it the country's 12th largest benefactor.

Paik Un-Gyu, South Korea's minister of trade, industry and energy, blamed South Korea's relatively low investment total on a lack of information. Paik said more business cooperation will come in the future.

He added that South Korean corporations are keen to invest in Thailand's petrochemical, biotechnology and electronics sectors but want to learn what privileges and promotions the Board of Investment is offering.

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