Thai coup adds to challenges for economy

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 23, 2014 at 3:42 am •  Published: May 23, 2014
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BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's economy was already struggling before the country's military seized power in a bloodless coup Thursday, saying it needed to restore order after six months of protests aimed at ousting the elected government. The military takeover, the second since 2006, could ensure stability in the short term. But analysts fear the army's intervention will result in Thailand's political divide becoming even sharper, holding back the economy and living standards in the longer run.

— BY THE NUMBERS

Among developing countries, Thailand is in the top tier for incomes and standard of living, a position that puts developed status within reach if growth isn't stymied by political upheaval. It is the sixth largest economy in Asia with GDP of about $366 billion and is significant to the world as a food exporter, tourism destination, and manufacturer of cars and computer hard drives.

Weighed down by political uncertainty, the economy contracted 2.1 percent in the first quarter from the previous quarter. It is forecast to grow by 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent this year, a woeful performance compared with 6.5 percent in 2012.

— TOURISM

Tourism employs millions and directly contributes about 6 percent of GDP. For January to March, foreign tourists dropped 6 percent to 6.6 million as headlines overseas about protests and violence in Bangkok muddied the welcome mat. In 2010, violent street battles and an army crackdown killed dozens.

"We are now offering discount prices to attract customers that may have a little worry about the situation there," says Chen Jiying, saleswoman at Beijing Youth Tourist Service. Still, the strong appeal of Thailand's pristine beaches, world famous food and vibrant culture along with savvy marketing has consistently lured visitors back in record numbers.

— FACTORIES

Much of heavy industry and manufacturing, particularly that with foreign involvement, is concentrated on the country's eastern seaboard in factory parks linked to Bangkok by good roads and other world class infrastructure. Foreign manufacturers have never been a target of protesters and usually take the unrest in their stride. South Korea's Posco said its plans to start construction of a steel sheet factory in Thailand next month were unchanged.

The coup is bringing some minor disruption. Toyota said it had canceled night shifts at its Thai car plant because of the curfew imposed by the army. Overall, however, the prolonged political instability has helped to make other countries in Southeast Asia such as Vietnam more attractive for new foreign investment. Consultants Frost & Sullivan says automakers may reconsider some big ticket factory expansion plans in the pipeline.

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