Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Thai PM visits China to boost trade, lure tourists

BANGKOK -- Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva arrived in China today to boost trade and lure back tourists warned against traveling to the Southeast Asian country after Premier Wen Jiabao was evacuated by helicopter.

China has advised citizens against visiting Thailand since Wen and other regional leaders were forced two months ago to flee a summit disrupted by protesters who opposed Abhisit. The two leaders are scheduled to meet tonight.

Tourism will be high on Abhisit's agenda during the four- day trip as he aims to strengthen ties with Thailand's largest trading partner after Japan. Visitors from China, Thailand's largest market by volume last year, fell the most of any group from a year earlier in May, according to government data.

"The crisis that happened here led to a significant decline in tourists from China," Abhisit told reporters today in Bangkok before his aircraft left. "We will boost confidence. China's government is interested in infrastructure and mass transit projects. China is an expert in this area."

Chinese investment in agriculture, agro-industry and infrastructure, as well as greater access for Thai fruits and vegetables will also be sought, Abhisit said earlier this week.

Thailand's government has prepared an investment plan worth about 1.4 trillion baht ($40.9 billion) through the end of 2012 to revive an economy facing its first annual contraction since 1998. Exports amount to about 60 percent of gross domestic product, with foreign tourists contributing about 6 percent.

Arrivals Tumble

Arrivals at Bangkok's main airport from China and Hong Kong in May fell as much as 56 percent from a year earlier, more than double the overall decline of 26 percent, according to the Office of Tourism Development. That came a month after Thai protesters who claim Abhisit doesn't have a mandate to govern stormed the summit of 16 Asian leaders, forcing its cancellation.

"We rarely have any tour groups from China as the ban is still on," said Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, president of the Thai-Chinese Tourism Alliance Association, who joined Abhisit on the trip along with about 100 other business leaders. "We need to go there to convince them, to regain their confidence."

Thailand's trade with China fell 25 percent to $11.3 billion in the first five months of the year, compared with an overall drop of 30 percent, according to Commerce Ministry data. The Southeast Asian nation's trade deficit with China narrowed to $363 million from $1.18 billion a year earlier, according to the data. Thai exports to Asia's biggest economy after Japan include rubber, petrochemicals and electronics.

'Erase Bad Image'

"This trip should help erase the earlier bad image about political instability, which weighed down our trade," said Dusit Nontanakorn, chairman of Thailand's Chamber of Commerce, who is also on the trip. "Even if we can get a slice of the market share there, it will help boost our trade a lot."

Charoen Pokphand Group, owned by Thailand's third-richest family, said in February it planned to buy an 11 percent stake in Shanghai AJ Corp., a Chinese investment company, for 588 million yuan ($86 million). China's manufacturing supports demand for commodities and components from companies like Hana Microelectronics Pcl and Siam Cement Pcl

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