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April 25, 2017

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World Bank raises Thailand's GDP growth forecast to 3.7%

The Nation (Thailand)/Asia News Network -- The World Bank is optimistic about Thailand's economic growth this year but warns that risks remain considerable.

The bank has revised upwards its growth forecast for gross domestic production this year to 3.7 percent from 3.2 percent previously, according to a report it released on April 5.

The Thai economy has broadened its base, with domestic consumption contributing more to growth than in the recent past and exports holding up well against the uncertain global outlook, said Frederico Gil Sander, the bank's country economist for Thailand and lead author of "Thailand Economic Monitor April 2011."

He expects the tourism industry to recover quickly from the adverse effects of the flooding in southern provinces, as it has after previous natural disasters or political turmoil.

However, the impact on the agricultural sector is quite complicated and it is difficult to make an assessment, he acknowledged.

The higher growth forecast was based on the improved outlook for advanced economies and the continuation of favorable drivers of domestic demand, especially firm agricultural prices that help boost the income of rural consumers, he said.

"The pace of economic growth activity is gradually returning to pre-crisis levels." Domestic demand has been accelerated by higher farm income and low interest rates. This helped push up wages in agriculture, which in turn tends to lift wages for unskilled workers, he said.

Export demand picked up in the fourth quarter of last year, also benefiting the Thai economy.

However, the bank warned that risks to the outlook were substantial, including rising oil prices, the follow-on impact of Europe's debt crisis, and the United States' fragile recovery.

The crude-oil price is currently around US$110 a barrel and is unlikely to decline rapidly, as political turmoil in Arab countries has not yet settled down, he noted.

However, Gil Sander said Thailand's changing export mix offered some resilience against higher oil prices and sluggish growth in advanced economies.

The export basket has changed since 2007 towards products that experienced healthy price gains over the past year. These are automotive, petrochemical and agricultural products.

The bank does not agree with the government's policy of subsidizing diesel prices and imposing price controls on several items. Gil Sander urged the government to help the poorest groups through cash transfers or by creating public-sector jobs such as road cleaning, as the Egyptian government does.

He expects the central bank to continue to raise the policy interest rate to curb inflation. But fast rate hikes could be an incentive for large capital inflows that could disrupt exchange rates.

Gil Sander believes the central bank is very careful about its plan to raise the policy rate from the current low level to normal levels. "The pace of rate hikes may be moderate," he said.

He said that while a GDP growth rate of 3.7 percent was not low, it was partly affected by the high base, since the country achieved a high growth of 7.8 percent last year.

However, he said that if Thailand wanted to progress from being a middle-income country to a high-income one, where per capita income is at least US$12,000 annually, it needed to maintain an annual GDP growth rate of 6 percent for 25 years.

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