Here is the speech by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at the opening of the Thailand Competitiveness Conference 2009, entitled “Thailand Competitiveness: Potential and Placement in the World Arena”, held yesterday at Four Seasons Hotel in Bangkok.
Your Excellency Alongkorn Polabutr, Deputy Minister of Commerce,
Khun Dusit Nantanakorn, Chairman of the Board of Trade of Thailand,
Prof. (Stephane) Garelli and Ms. (Suzanne) Rosselet, Directorate, IMD’s World Competitiveness Center,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
(On Thailand As Is – Rankings by the Institute for Management Development, the World Economic Forum and the World Bank)
It is a great pleasure for me to be invited to this prominent gathering of government and business leaders, academics, and other distinguished participants. Serving as a very important venue for all of us to discuss the relative ranking for Thailand as assessed by the Institute for Management Development (IMD), this Thailand Competitiveness Conference 2009 also provides a very good opportunity for all to share and hear first-hand how we wish to see Thailand moving forward globally.
The Government has designated competitiveness as the hallmark of its achievements. It is, in other words, what this Government is determined to deliver. I have already mobilized agencies, think-tanks, and research and policy institutes to review our standing and put our economy on the competitive edge. In terms of ranking, Thailand has been included in the IMD’s Yearbook for the past 20 years, as well as in a compilation in the World Bank’s “Ease in Doing Business,” and at the World Economic Forum.
As the IMD probes the ability of governments to create and maintain an environment for competitiveness for enterprises, it subscribes to the view that wealth creation takes place primarily at the enterprise level. As enterprises generally operate in a national environment, governments can thus play a key role to directly enhance competitiveness.
Many of you here have given input to the IMD’s analysis — the World Competitiveness Yearbook — with assistance from the Thailand Management Association. But for all the potentials that we know Thailand is blessed with, we can say, and numbers show, that it has not performed as well as it could. Our ranking has not been what we wished for. We would work to be stronger and more resilient and improve productivity and efficiency.
Among some 60 nations covered by the IMD survey, Thailand stands, in terms of its overall performance for 2009, at number 26. Two years ago, in 2007, Thailand’s overall ranking was a low 33. But I believe we can do better. Of the four main categories, our Economic Performance came in at a respectable number 14, while Government Efficiency and Business Efficiency rank 17 and 25, respectively. However, for Infrastructure, which covers health and education, technological, scientific, and human resources, we came in at 42.
We have indeed seen improvement over the last couple of years, and today we must realise that a major overhaul of Thailand is on the card. We recognise the need to increase productivity, returns on investment and our growth potential. We accept the challenge by placing the competitiveness of this Kingdom on the top of our policy agenda. We invite all our friends to take part in the investment for this competitiveness.
(On Realising the Vision by Building on Strengths and Addressing Key Weaknesses)
Thailand’s potential and strength include its strategic location, well diversified production base ranging from high-quality services, manufacturing, and of course to agricultural products. But we have room for improvement in many areas. Our Government is already doing its utmost to stimulate the domestic economy through two stimulus packages, the second of which, aimed at medium- to long-term development, is dubbed “Thailand: Invest for Strength to Strength 2012”. We will make sure that their implementation will be “on track and on time”. The 800 billion-baht loan approved by the Parliament will definitely move forward various initiatives, ranging from physical to social infrastructure projects, that is, from transport to education and health, to boost the economy and productivity in the next three years.
The task for the Government’s first six months, you may say, has been to actively rescue the least fortunate and most vulnerable in society from the financial crisis. We are committed to this as a first priority and move along our medium- and long-term plan.
For longer-term competitiveness, on the other hand, we know full well that there are much-needed investments in terms of transport, education and technology, among others. This has to be done immediately to keep the Thai economy competitive, especially once it recovers. We must proceed immediately, first to fully realise our strengths and weaknesses, then set priorities, and, most importantly, acquire the needed resources and commence implementation. Actually, many areas should be tackled, but I will touch only on some of them where I see great potential.
Turning to foods, we see another great potential in our agricultural sector. Everyone seems to know, but we Thais should again remind ourselves, that we remain one of the very few countries in the world that have food surpluses for export. With this unique stature, we cannot ignore becoming a leading exporter of key crops and, at the same time, a significant producer of alternative fuel, using tapioca, palm oil, and sugar cane. In short, we must aim to be a World Leader in Food and help ensure global food and energy security. Of course, there is still a considerable path ahead as productivity in this sector is currently very low, very little value added, with not enough use of appropriate technology. We must put our crops to good use, especially our key crops.
For the industrial sector, the Government’s emphasis is clear. It is time to add more value for products created domestically and use creativity to create greater value. Given adequate infrastructure, I can assure you that there are already a number of companies looking for fresh opportunities for investment and expansion. In particular, we should leap on to the next stage where we have more emphasis on higher value-added products and higher technology.
And, likewise, for the service sector, there is a great potential in a country so well known for the service-mindedness of its people and the top-class services of medical and tourist related services it provides. Yet, the service sector has barely grown in terms of proportion of GDP. We will seek for fresh opportunities for this sector, including on diversification.
Next, we should provide infrastructure to become an emerging leader in the creative industry. We will make sure of the plan to create a creative economy which has been said to be one of the ways out of the current economic crisis. Thailand possesses excellent creative potential and will use these strengths to establish alliances, for instance, between software and digital content to produce positive results for both sides. Creative economy is indeed now prevailing in the world economy.
The challenge is to put our resources to good use. To improve on the low productivity in some sectors, we will embark on various infrastructure projects, such as on water management and transportation and communications.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
(On Public and Private Synergy to Enhance Competitiveness)
To have a coordinated response to the challenges, the role of the private sector in cooperating with the government is crucial. The Government will seek more extensive participation of the private sector in bringing forward prosperity and competitiveness.
It is my hope and wish that what unfolds during this conference will give Thailand the opportunity to benchmark globally and, where possible, to learn from other success stories. I look forward to concrete propositions on goals and targets for the short to medium term. All of your efforts will contribute to Thailand’s international standing and positive responses from the international community.