Thailand 4.0: A bold plan for an innovation-driven society

Thai41While most domestic and international media were focusing last week on the Kingdom’s charter referendum and roadmap for democracy, the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has begun paving the way for a more ambitious and challenging national transformation: Thailand 4.0.

Thailand 4.0 is a huge leap in development that will take the Kingdom from an industrial economy to an innovation-driven society over the next 20 years. Developed in synergy with the recently unveiled 12th National Plan of the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB), Thailand 4.0 is the blueprint to build a more advanced and competitive nation where standards of living are higher and disparities are lower; where human resources are nurtured and valued, and the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the Thai people are unleashed for the benefit of all.

“The country has no choice but to create new engines of growth,” wrote Suthichai Yoon, editor of The Nation newspaper, about the new national direction. “It is a major challenge that can’t be achieved through traditional thinking or conventional action. But there is no shortcut to putting Thailand on the world’s innovation frontline.”

In that regard, Prime Minister Prayut and his team of policymakers have laid out a sequenced plan for sustainable high-value growth that will require collaboration between government, the private sector, investors and the public. Broad-based cooperation from all segments of society is needed, the Prime Minister said, to achieve what some are calling the “fourth industrial revolution.”

“Everyone must work harder,” Prime Minister Prayut said in an address to the country on the topic at the end of July.

The seeds of Thailand 4.0 are already being sown through a new emphasis on science and technology; research and development; education that focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); investments in advanced infrastructure and logistics; digital industrial estates; and building a technology eco-system for start-ups that is already drawing interest and investments from Silicon Valley-based venture capital funds and global technology firms.

Partnerships with global innovators and opportunities for foreign investment will be key components of Thailand 4.0, and the Board of Investment is already onboard with new and upcoming incentives for green, high-tech businesses that transfer knowledge, technology and establish research and development centers in the country.

Under Thailand 4.0, policymakers will begin with an emphasis on five existing and five new industries. The first five are automotive, electronics, medical and wellness tourism, agriculture and biotechnology, and food. The second group of industries is robotics, aviation and logistics, biofuels and bio-chemicals, the digital industry, and medical hub.

According to Deputy Commerce Minister Suwit Maesinsri, the change requires production of commodities to become production of innovative products; industries to be driven by technology, creativity and innovation; and a shift from manufacturing to services.

The Ministry of Labor is already formulating a master plan to guide the development of Thailand’s workforce towards higher skills and expertise in support of Thailand 4.0. Other ministries are also developing similar plans to support the new direction.

What the Prime Minister and his policymakers are asking is nothing short of a national challenge – and one that if successful will ensure his legacy. Change isn’t always easy.  But change is also an opportunity – both for Thailand and its partners.