What are your policy prescriptions for Thailand?
CHAROENWONGSAK: The most important policy prescriptions that I would like to see in Thailand relate to making sure we are competitive so that we move Thailand forward into the first league and to make sure that we are not trapped in the middle income trap. We need to be a sustainable developed country in the long-haul.
We need to excel in our education excellence. We need to train our people so that they are world class. We need infrastructure that is comprehensively complete. That will assist us to do things. We need to ensure that the ease of doing business here is good enough to ensure that people want to locate in Thailand for the hub of their business in this region. We need to learn how to work with various other nations around us so that we become a stronger ASEAN. By ourselves we are too small, so we need to work together to attract attention. So we need to work within ASEAN and beyond with the super powers that are around us and further away.
What is the first step Thailand needs to take in order to achieve excellence in education?
CHAROENWONGSAK: I think we need to make sure that we are competitive in paying our teachers at every level. We need to allow selection to come across the board, not just domestically but also internationally. We need to internationalize our education system completely. The language issue has to be dealt with so that English is something that is a usual thing for younger generations. They need to read and write English just like Thai so that we can be internationalized. We need to upgrade our education system so that we have selection pools that cover more of the world’s professors who can come and be in Thailand. Our universities need to be world-class. In education, we need to be more hand-on and practical, interfacing with industry so that we are producing people that industry needs at that pitch where the technology really is.
We need to focus on our niche. Thailand does not have vast resources that allow us to do everything we would need to do, so we need to focus. We spend a lot of money, about 4% of GDP on education, about 20% of the government budget for the Education Ministry alone. The amount is not too bad, but we need to have a lot more that does not only come from the government sector but from the private sector as well. Money is an issue in terms of amount, so we need to enlarge this. But, we need to use it efficiently.
How should Thailand position itself for the upcoming ASEAN Economic Community (AEC)?
CHAROENWONGSAK: Thailand is central in the region anyway. Geographically, we are strategically located. We are on the peninsula, which is connected on the peripheral to ASEAN countries, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The others are a little bit further down plus they are island archipelagos so they have a lot more difficulty to play a leadership role. Thailand is the second largest economy in ASEAN and we are quite a well to do economy. We have the potential. Our border lines that connect to other countries are the longest border lines compared to all the other countries in ASEAN. Our airport is the hub without a doubt. All airlines flying through this area need to change planes in Bangkok. Therefore, I think we are very much a place that has a chance to do it well. Thailand will play a leading role like we used to. In fact, ASEAN was kicked off in Bangkok 46 years ago. The free trade areas, again, were initiated in Bangkok. Many things in ASEAN were initiated right here in Bangkok. We must continue to be a help to others and we must play our role and Thailand can do that if we get our act together politically.
What are the best investment opportunities in Thailand today?
The entire management of our economy is done professionally. We have a good central bank that is full of reasonable people that know how to manage monetary policy in wise way and an independent way from the fiscal policy of the government.
CHAROENWONGSAK: I think you will see tremendous opportunities in the tourism sector. The tourism sector has grown tremendously. We have passed 20m people per year now. I set a goal in my writing for Thailand to move to 100m people, being comparable with Paris and some other European countries. We have such potential if we do something about it. If we do not do anything, we are not going to get there. So I think tourism is an opportunity, and in particular, medical tourism. I think this will be a very powerful sector.
The food sector, the kitchen of the world concept, is clear. Thailand can do this and has been doing it. We can see a lot of our food in supermarkets around the world. A lot of that potential is still there. In fact, we have an undeveloped area in the herbal industries. Biodiversity is here and we need to learn how to extract this scientifically and get it on shelves.
We also have the automobile industry, which has been a huge industry, and can go further in terms of bringing the entire chain including research and development here. We also have electrical appliances, computer parts, and the gem industry, which have been doing very well. The Thais are very delicate in their handicrafts and when applied to gems and jewelry, you can see very fine work coming out of our people. These are the things, for example, that have potential in Thailand.
What do you see as the most positive economic indicators for Thailand and which remain challenges?
CHAROENWONGSAK: I think we have kept our economy at a low inflation level and we also have huge international reserves, which is not bad at all at this stage. We also have managed our macro discipline quite well. In fact, our debt ratio of public debt is quite low. Our macroeconomic environment has been prudent for a long time. We have been governed by a technocratic leadership that knows the economy. Therefore Thailand has a well-disciplined economy. Our tax system is modern and we are lowering our taxes while collecting more money. The entire management of our economy is done professionally. We have a good central bank that is full of reasonable people that know how to manage monetary policy in wise way and an independent way from the fiscal policy of the government. So we seem to have available, all the kinds of people needed to monitor and make sure the economy runs well. We have a tradition that is very respectful of the market and that is a very helpful thing. Thailand is a player that is not going to bring a lot of imprudent surprises.