Experts warn Thailand needs structural reform to reclaim competitive edge


Thailand must undergo fundamental structural reforms, including deregulation, workforce reskilling, and technological adoption, to reclaim its competitive edge, a panel of experts declared at a Kiatnakin Phatra Financial Group (KKP) seminar on Monday.

Titled "Revive Thailand: How the Country Moves Forward", the seminar warned the kingdom risks lagging behind the global economy, with GDP growth potentially capped at a meagre 3% over the next decade.

Santitarn Sathirathai, adviser to the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), outlined four key areas for reform:

  • Openness to investment: Leverage global derisking and relocation trends.
  • Regulation overhaul: Make it easier for companies of all sizes to do business.
  • Focus on quality investment: Target the digital and green economy.
  • Human capital upgrade: Enhance both quantity and quality of the skilled workforce.

(left) Santitarn Sathirathai

Santitarn compared Thailand to an elderly athlete who can no longer compete purely on strength.

“As a result, we must compete smarter, using the right tools, tactics, skills, and knowledge," he said, citing AI as one tool Thailand could use to overcome its shortcomings.

Sarawud Hengsawas

Prominent thinker Sarawud Hengsawas (penname “Roundfinger”) emphasised the need to upskill Thailand’s workforce and increase public participation and contribution by providing more platforms for everyone, especially the younger generations.

"Allowing people to express their opinions will help the country reach its potential while also boosting preparedness for various challenges ahead," he said.

KKP chief economist Pipat Luengnaruemitchai said Thailand must be more ambitious in its growth targets via structural reform that covers all sectors.

"I believe in collaboration and co-creation. It’s time for the public, private, and community sectors to work together so that we can find the best solution for everyone to take action and move forward," he said.

KKP financial experts also offered investment advice for the year ahead.

Taweesak Paopanlop

Taweesak Paopanlop, KKP's chief investment officer advised investors to consider the global bond market and global real estate trusts where returns are relatively high for the risk.

For those willing to take on more risk, he recommended looking for value stocks or listed companies with strong balance sheets and consistent revenue. Commodities, real estate, infrastructure, technology, energy, communication services, and consumer staples are all worth considering for portfolios, he added.

KKP also advised overweighting with Thai stocks for the first time in 15 years, citing the local export and tourism revival.

However, Taweesak cited Pipat's warning about the country's structural issues, advising Thai stock investors to plan for the short term while focusing on global stocks for the long term.