By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
There has been concern that extended land-leases and other privileges for foreign investors may push Thailand into quasi-colonial status.
EEC committee secretary-general Kanit Sangsubhan said privileges for foreign investors were important to draw investment here, saying they would not only boost the economy but also help increase the transfer of technology.
“There is no need to be concerned about the privileges that the government will provide to foreign investors in the EEC, because most of these privileges, such as a 50-year land lease plus a 49- year extension, or allowing foreigners to occupy land in Thailand, have already been included in existing laws such as the Land Leasing for Commerce and Industry Act,” Kanit said.
“That means we have already provided these privileges to investors in industrial estates across Thailand and the reason that we mentioned them again in EEC bill is because investors don’t have to read lots of legislation to find these legal advantages.”
He said neighbouring countries provide similar privileges to investors.
“Malaysia, for instance, has created five large special economic zones, which can compare to our EEC but in a larger scale, and they also allow foreign investors to lease the land up to 99 years as well,” he said.
“These benefits for the investors come with an exchange of knowledge and technology, as we can learn from these investors and bring the technology that we learn from them to push forward our economic growth.”
He said this was why the government allows foreign investors to bring their specialists to work and live in Thailand, as they also bring knowledge and technology.
“This is why we focus on attracting the investors in 10 target industries, as we have planned to develop our economy on the technologies that the investors bring with them,” he said.
“Every country in the world requires new technology to spearhead their country’s development, so it is sensible that we trade some of our benefit to the precious technology for our country’s future.”
According to the EEC Bill, there are 10 target industries: modern automobile, robotics, electronics, aviation and logistics, upscale tourism, bio-fuels and biochemistry, agriculture and biotechnology, digital, food processing, and the medical industry.
Anusorn Tamajai, the dean of Rangsit University’s Faculty of Economics, said we must ensure that we prepare Thai workers to learn new technologies from foreign investors.
Anusorn said while it was fine to trade new technology for investor privileges, the advantage should be in the form of tax benefits, because it is negotiable for the fairest exchange.
Responding to concerns that new cities under the EEC plan will be modern colonies, Kanit explained that the plan was only in the initial stages and the cities were intended to support the urban expansion of Bangkok and Pattaya.
“We do have a plan to develop new cities within EEC special economic zones, but they are not towns for foreigners. They will be smart and modern towns for the new Thai generations, so they do not have to live crowded in already packed Bangkok or Pattaya.”
He said the new towns would be made up of international colleges, medical hubs, and well-planned transport systems, with links to Bangkok and Pattaya within 30 minutes’ travel time.
On the worry about land requirements for developing the EEC, Kanit said right now the focus development area was on public land such as Utapao Airport to create the first phase. There was still no clear plan about land allocation for the next phase yet.
“The EEC is only in the beginning phase and we do not have a plan to expropriate land from people. So, people should not worry about a massive land grab, because we consider the plan to buy land from private land owners and use public land to develop special economic zones,” he said.
“This will be just like an extension for the already existing Eastern Seaboard and we strongly believe the EEC will provide great economic benefit for our country.”