Checkpoints to upgrade in trade push

The military regime has vowed to upgrade all temporary border checkpoints to permanent status as part of its commitment to boost border trade.

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State authorities are in talks with neighbouring counterparts on the issue, said Arkhom Termpittayapaisith, secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Board.

State agencies have been instructed to speed up efforts to stimulate border trade and accelerate the establishment of six special economic zones (SEZs) in five provinces.

The National Council for Peace and Order in July approved SEZs for Sadao in Songkhla, Mae Sot in Tak, Khlong Luek in Sa Kaeo, Khlong Yai in Trat and in Mukdahan.

The junta also approved 300 million baht to expand checkpoints at Sadao, Chiang Rai, Sa Kaeo and Mukdahan.

The money will come from the 2.575-trillion-baht 2015 fiscal budget.

For the fiscal year starting Oct 1, the state is expected to run a budget deficit of 250 billion baht, some 50 billion higher than the Budget Bureau had estimated.

The investment budget will amount to 451 billion baht or 17.5% of the total, up by 8.98 billion baht from fiscal 2014. Investment will go mainly to logistics, road improvements and expanding border checkpoints.

The fiscal 2014 budget stands at 2.525 trillion baht, with revenue collection of 2.275 trillion, leaving a deficit of 250 billion.

The main infrastructure projects involve highway construction (60 billion baht), rural road development (40 billion), water resource development (7.21 billion) and water management to prevent flooding (42.1 billion).

Isara Vongkusolkij, chairman of Thai Chamber of Commerce (TCC), said top priority for upgrades should go to temporary checkpoints at Three Pagodas Pass in Kanchanaburi, Huay Ton Nun in Mae Hong Son, Ban Lak Tang in Chiang Mai, Ban Mamuang in Trat, Chong Sai Ta Ku in Buri Ram, and Chong Am Ma in Ubon Ratchathani.

Mr Isara said the chamber also called on the government to introduce visas on arrival for Myanmar visitors to Thailand at checkpoints at Ranong airport, Mae Sot in Tak and Mae Sai in Chiang Rai.

Laos visitors should be granted visas on arrival at Huay Kon in Nan, Phu Du in Uttaradit, Tha Li in Loei, Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan and Chong Mek in Ubon Ratchathani, he said.

The TCC has forecast SEZs would lift Thailand's border trade by at least 20% a year and boost tourism and movement of labour. Vice-president Niyom Waiyaratpanich estimated 2014 growth in border trade of 7-8% from last year's 924 billion baht.

According to the TCC, Thailand's border trade grew by 5.7% in the first five months of the year to 405 billion baht. Border trade with Malaysia contributed the most, followed by Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.

Once the new SEZs are in place, border trade at the Sadao-Padang Besar checkpoint is expected to rise to 500 billion baht from an estimated 330 billion now. Border trade via Mae Sot is expected to rise to 50 billion baht from 46 billion, Khlong Luek trade to increase to 100 billion from 59 billion and Mukdahan trade to double from 30 billion baht. 

Suphan Mongkholsuthee, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, said the state's privileges for investments in SEZs should be attractive, while infrastructure and facilities should be well prepared.

Thailand now runs 35 permanent border checkpoints and 47 temporary ones.

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