HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Rice exports up

EGAT resists privatization

PTT petrol stations will sell Thai fruit wine and liquors

Leading banker warns of widening gap between rich and poor

Rice exports up

Thailand’s rice exports in 2002 reached about 7.2 million tons, beating the government’s target. The figures were slightly below last year’s record because the country lost some market share to India, but Nigeria is expected to continue to be Thailand’s top rice buyer.

Somboon Pathaichant, manager at the Thai Rice Exporters’ Association, said, “Thailand’s rice exports for the year 2002 are lower than in 2001 due to fierce competition from other exporters, notably India.”

In the early part of 2002 the Thai government forecast the nation’s rice exports at 7 million tons. The figure was down slightly from 7.5 million tons the year before. India emerged as a major international rice supplier last year and overtook Vietnam as the world’s number-two rice exporter.

Exporters say the top five buyers of Thai rice in 2002 were Nigeria, Indonesia, Senegal, Iran and South Africa.

EGAT resists privatization

EAGT disagrees with the government’s plans to proceed with the privatization of the state-owned Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT). EGAT’s governor views the plan as a threat to the success of the multilateral Asia Grid Project.

EGAT Governor Sithiporn Rattanophas recently told Energy Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana that the Asia Grid Project involves investments from 8 countries in a number of power-generation projects, including the construction of the US$6 billion Salween Dam along the Thailand-Burma border. He said this means it is vital to retain EGAT as a state-owned entity because of its assets.

EGAT’s enviable assets can be used to obtain funds from international investors and lenders such as the World Bank. But EGAT would lose its attraction if it were broken up into smaller entities as is part of the privatization scheme.

Other countries involved in the Asian Grid project include China, Burma, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Singapore and Malaysia. Power generated from the Asia Grid project would be sold to these countries to meet future energy needs.

During the year 2002, electricity needs among the 8 countries were estimated at 50,000 megawatts.

A study indicates that this demand will increase to 100,000 megawatts by 2010, thus requiring more power-sector investments. EGAT feels it is in the best position among the ASEAN group to lead in these investments. (TNA)

PTT petrol stations will sell Thai fruit wine and liquors

In an effort to link up with the nationwide One Village, One Product scheme, Thailand’s largest gas and oil firm PTT has joined with a group of distillers of traditional liquor and fruit wines by offering to market their products in its gas stations.

PTT expects to set up 30 booths at various PTT service stations for selling the One Village, One Product merchandise by the end of January 2003.

At present here are about 1,000 producers of local liquors and fruit wine. Nationwide marketing and promotion of Thai wines could help reduce the annual 60 billion baht locals spend on imported wine and liquor.

PTT’s vice-president Apisit Rujikiatkamjorn said that the company has already started transforming four of its service stations in Chonburi, Chacheongsao, Bangkok, and Saraburi into prototype shops. Other products on sale at PTT’s service stations will include handicrafts, and traditional herbs.

Chaiyuth Visuthjitjai, representative of the local group of distillers, said the group has already asked the Department of Export Promotion to help market the local products and has asked Thai Airways International to include Thai liquor and wines on its in-flight shopping list.

The group also wants government assistance in research, development, and marketing. This would add value to the products and help to open markets overseas. (TNA)

Leading banker warns of widening gap between rich and poor

Bantoon Lamsum, president of Thai Farmers Bank Plc. said he has learned from a recent discussion with the Bank of Thailand (BOT) that the country’s international reserve has now increased to US$38 billion and this bodes well for the economy. But many people still face economic hardship while certain groups of people are extremely wealthy. He said this huge gap between the rich and the poor needs to be solved urgently.

Bantoon agreed that government and private companies must join forces to boost the economy, but should also try to prevent the repetition of a bubble economy.

Bantoon said the BOT continues to accelerate lending and expects a growth rate of 2% for the year 2003.

The bank is also stressing the importance of risk management. “Lending without paying attention to risk management will aggravate the public debt problem as could be witnessed in the past,” Bantoon said.

He said the non-performing loan problem has slightly improved, but not significantly because the economic recovery has not been felt in all sectors. Debt-restructuring needs to be done with regard to financial discipline. He projected interest rates will continue to stay low because liquidity in the banking system remains high. (TNA)