Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Thai PM leaves for China on official visit to boost investment trade and tourism

BANGKOK, June 24 (Xinhua) -- Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Wednesday left here for Beijing on an official visit to China to boost Sino-Thai strategic cooperation as well as his ambition to meet or even surpass the 2010 Sino-Thai investment, tourism and trade targets in face of the ongoing global economic and financial crisis.

This is the first Abhisit's visit to China since taking office in December. And his entourage is the biggest delegation Thailand has organized since he assumed office, and includes more than 100 representatives from both government and the private sectors.

During the trip, he is scheduled to meet his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao and pay a courtesy call on Chinese President Hu Jintao.

"China is a very important strategic partner of Thailand and I'm going to enhance the partnership and relationship between the two countries in very challenging times, when the world is facing a financial and economic crisis... at the same time there are also significant opportunities for the expansion of the relationship between China and Thailand, China and the ASEAN," Abhisit said in an interview with Xinhua before his visit.

To boost trade and tourism are top agenda for Abhisit's visit.

"We set targets for 2010, in terms of volume of trade, in terms of the number of tourists, in terms of investment. And before the crisis, I think we were on track and can meet those targets quite comfortably," he said, "But the first half of this year has seen a very big drop in exports and has seen a very big drop in number of tourists. That's a concern and is something we should discuss to see how we can fix that."

"At the very least, I think we should still aim for the targets that have been set in the past, if not actually being more ambitious, say, maybe we can try to even up that, and hope that next year and the year after, we'll see more favorable circumstances. "

According to Thailand's Commerce Ministry in April, the Sino-Thai trade target for 2010 is 50 billion U.S. dollars.

Specifically addressing the issue of boosting Thai tourism and attracting more Chinese tourists, Abhisit introduced the measures taken by his government, including waiving visa fees, reducing landing fees, and trying to provide further incentives.

Tourism Authority of Thailand's data on June 4 said that for the first quarter of 2009, visitor arrivals to Thailand totaled some 3.2 million, down 19 percent compared to the same period last year.

The tourism sector, generating about 540 billion baht (about 15.4 million U.S. dollars) annually, makes up more than six percent of Thailand's gross domestic product (GDP) and seven percent of its work force.

Meanwhile, Abhisit said he will invite Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to visit Thailand before or after the ASEAN Summit and Related Summits scheduled to be held in southern island of Phuket on October 23-25.

The summits scheduled for April 10-12 in Thailand's eastern beach resort city of Pattya, was forced to be canceled after thousands supporters of the anti-government United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) or the so-called "red-shirts" rushed into the meeting revenue. Since then, the Thai government has set late October as the time for the next summits and consulted with related countries.

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