Export comeback gains strength, highest rise in six years

Shipments of Thai goods poured out of Thai ports at a record pace in 2017, rising 9.9 percent last year for the highest growth in six years and twice as high as what most analysts had forecast, boosting confidence that the Thai economy is firmly on course for a strong resurgence.

The performance of Thai exports exceeded the forecast for global export growth of 8.6 percent for the year made by the International Monetary Fund, and represents a remarkable turnaround for the Kingdom considering exports grew by just 0.5 percent in 2016. Only falling prices for agricultural commodities in December prevented Thai exports from hitting the 10 percent growth mark for the year, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

Exports are the most powerful of the three pistons that traditionally drive the Thai economy, followed by investment and consumption. Thailand has been a model of Asian export success for decades, manufacturing and shipping its way from an underdeveloped nation to a middle-income country. But an export slump hit the Kingdom in 2014 and the recovery was tepid until this year, causing concerns in some quarters that the country may be losing its competitive edge.

Those fears have been allayed by 10 straight months of strong export growth. The performance was especially encouraging because shipments grew despite a steadily rising baht, Thailand’s currency, making Thai good more expensive overseas. The strengthening baht has prompted exporters to plead with the government to intervene and blunt further increases. Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak said this week, however, that Thai authorities would not intervene and that market forces would determine the value of the baht.

The country’s outbound shipments of goods totaled $237 billion in 2017. Imports reached $223 billion, a rise of 14.7 percent, indicating that Thailand is also buying more goods from its trading partners. The figures gave the country a trade surplus of $13.9 billion.

“Exports to all markets have expanded constantly, especially in the United States, European Union, ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and China, whose value hit a record this year,” said Pimchanok Vonkorpon, director-general of the Trade Policy and Strategy Office at the Ministry of Commerce. “Total border trade in 2017 amounted to $34 billion, up 6.2 percent from the year before.”

Among the products whose export totals increased were rubber products, electronics, oil-related products, rice, automobiles and auto parts. Agricultural and agro-industrial products were also strong performers throughout the year. The top performing goods in terms of quantity were rice, rubber, fruit and chicken. In 2017, rice exports hit a record of 11.6 million tons. For most of the past three decades, Thailand has been the world’s leading rice exporter and the quality of its grain is considered among the highest in the world.