GDP climbs, Thailand among up-and-coming economies

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Thailand’s economy grew at a 3.3 percent clip during the first quarter of this year, according to government statistics released last week, continuing its steady acceleration on increasing consumption, investment and exports as U.S. News & World Report included Thailand among its nine up-and-coming economies.

Porametee Vimolsiri, secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB), a government think tank, said the 3.3 percent rise was a significant improvement over the 3 percent growth in the final quarter of last year. Among the factors propelling stronger growth was an expansion of the agricultural sector, as the end of a drought accompanied by higher commodities prices were putting more money in farmers’ pockets. They, in turn, spent more and boosted private consumption.

Agriculture enjoyed a 7.7 percent expansion in the first quarter. Although the sector contributes about 9 percent to gross domestic product (GDP), it provides jobs directly or indirectly to 40 percent of the population. Thailand is also the only net food exporter in Asia, so agriculture is an important component of the Kingdom’s export menu and regional food security.

Total exports in the first quarter also expanded. Export value was US$56.2 billion, for 6.6 percent growth, which was the highest increase in the past 17 quarters.

Rising exports were reflected in a whopping 138 percent increase in the consolidated net profits of Thoresen Thai Agencies, one of Thailand’s largest freight shipping firms. The company said the results were especially encouraging because the first quarter is traditionally a quiet period for Thai shipping, and so the strong performance underscores executives’ belief that exports are firmly on the road to recovery.

For a country that had an annual average growth rate of roughly 7 percent for several decades, 3-plus percent has led to a degree of pessimism in some domestic quarters over the state of the economy. But U.S. News & World Report is taking a much more optimistic view of the Kingdom’s economy.

The magazine ranked Thailand sixth on its list of the world’s up-and-coming economies. “Thailand boasts a healthy, efficient economy with low unemployment and poverty rates,” the magazine wrote.

Of the five countries ahead of Thailand on the list, four are Asian nations: Singapore, India, China and Japan. The United Arab Emirates topped the list.

Thailand’s economy got high marks for being different, distinctive, dynamic and unique.

“A substantial agriculture sector and competitive manufacturing industry have kept Thailand strong and growing with low poverty and unemployment rates. It is the world’s largest exporter of rice and a leader in textiles, tin and electronics. Western education and technology have been absorbed into a devout Buddhist society,” the magazine wrote.