Chiangrai Times – Thailand has great potential to be a regional hub for British investors seeking a springboard for exploring opportunities in Myanmar and other Asean countries, but needs to liberalize its investment regulations so that it can compete effectively with Singapore, a British minister said.
During a short visit to the Kingdom last week, Lord Jonathan Marland, Chairman of UK Trade and Investment’s Business Ambassadors’ Group, told The Nation that Thailand should leverage its role by liberalizing the services sector and investment, as many British firms would like to use this country as a centre for exploring opportunities in Myanmar.
“There is no doubting the great potential for Thailand to be an access point to Myanmar. The country should develop its regulations and liberalise its investment rules to compete with Singapore, which is known as a very liberalized country,” he said.
Marland, who is UK parliamentary under-secretary of state for the Energy and Climate Change Department, also led the group of British businesses on the first official visit by the UK government to Myanmar last week.
More UK businesses are very keen to invest in Thailand given Britain’s long-standing relationship and good history with the country, he said.
Of particularly high interest for British enterprises are openings in those parts of the service where they have great expertise, mainly in education, finance and telecommunications, he added.
Myanmar, which has recently sped up steps on the path to democracy, is also very attractive for British investors, he said. However, as Myanmar has a long way to go before its business and other sectors can grow, UK enterprises still see Thailand as a good destination for continuing investment and use as a gateway for exploring opportunities in the neighbouring country, Marland said.
To enhance the Kingdom’s attractiveness, he suggested the government should develop its investment regulations, and in particular increase the permitted shareholding for foreigners investing in the services industry.
He also raised concern about new insurance legislation, under which the term of a foreign insurer’s holding is limited to just 10 years.
In his meeting with Thai economic ministers, Marland encouraged the government to engage more closely with the European Union by pressing forward with negotiations for a free-trade agreement with the region.
Officials should also consider developing a more liberalized taxation policy, which would promote trade growth between the EU and Thailand amid the economic slowdown in the European bloc, he said.
As the United Kingdom is part of the EU, trade and investment with Thailand would also increase after the introduction of a free-trade pact, he added.
Marland also urged the government to resolve overlapping territorial claims with Cambodia, which have created uncertainty for British oil firms doing business in the Gulf of Thailand.
Moreover, he asked the government to allow longer work permits for British and other foreign employees, particularly for skilled workers, to facilitate business growth.
According to British Embassy figures, annual two-way trade between the UK and Thailand is worth 4.92 billion pounds (Bt241.6 billion). This is based on 2010 service exports and 2011 goods exports.
Bilateral trade in goods last year was valued at 3.84 billion, while trade in services was worth 1.08 billion pounds.
British exports to Thailand have continued to grow this year, while UK imports from the Kingdom have declined by 10 per cent to date.
In the January-to-March quarter, British goods exports to Thailand were valued at 377 million pounds, a year-on-year increase by 1.2 per cent, while imports from Thailand came in at 564 million pounds, down 10.7 per cent.
The UK is one of the largest European investors in Thailand.