Bt20-bn plan to link EEC with southern corridor


APPROVAL will be sought from the Cabinet for investment of over Bt20 billion for a southern corridor that will connect with the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) in order to forge a massive trade hub linking the Pacific and Indian oceans. 

Meanwhile, the first draft of a city plan for the EEC will be ready for public hearings in early December, perhaps leading to some land being expropriated for the transportation project. 
PM’s Office Minister Kobsak Pootrakool yesterday said he would submit an investment package for the so-called Southern Economic Corridor (SEC), an economic zone covering the four provinces of Chumphon, Ranong, Surat Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat, with the zone also connected to the EEC.
He made the comments while giving the keynote speech at a seminar entitled “Next Step Thailand: EEC” hosted by Krungthep Turakij, a sister newspaper of The Nation. 
The SEC will comprise a Bt10-billion seaport in Ranong province, a Bt10-billion double-track rail linking Chumphon and Ranong provinces, and road investments, he said. 
“The new projects are necessary because it would make the EEC the real hub for an investment and trade route linking the Pacific and Indian oceans, and the investment cost is not much,” Kobsak assured. 
The EEC and SEC will be linked by double-track railway and other double-track railway routes would link the EEC to Thailand’s borders in all directions, he said. 
The National Economic and Social Development Board, under Kobsak’s supervision, has completed a detailed budgeting of investments in these infrastructure projects, which would be submitted for Cabinet approval within this month but no later than early December, he said. 
If the Cabinet gives its approval, a feasibility study would be kicked off. The government’s initial plan is to replant mangrove forests in order to replenish fishery resources in the coastal areas. Also, a research and development centre and an industrial park for rubber and palm oil would be established in order to support local farmers. Investors in the SEC will get tax and other privileges from the Board of Investment, he said. 
Asked about opposition from local communities, Kobsak said the government had responded by choosing a green project – mangrove reforestation – as its first priority. Also, instead of the proposed new seaport, the existing one would be upgraded, he said.
Meanwhile, Monton Sudprasert, director-general of the Public Works and Town and Country Planning Department, said the first draft of the city plan for the three EEC provinces – Chachoengsao, Chon Buri and Rayong – would be completed next month and opened for public hearings.
He said the new city plan would substantially alter the current one. The area exclusively for industrial zone will be expanded from the current 83,000 rai (13,280 hectares) to about 300,000 rai (48,000 hectares), or close to 4 per cent of the 8.3-million rai of the total EEC land area. The industrial zone expansion would be enough to accommodate new factories. 
“But manufacturers should stay close to current industrial parks. They should not buy cheaper land in remote areas, because they may not be included in the industrial zone’s new city plan,” he warned.
The current green zone would be divided into two zones – green and yellow. The green zone is earmarked for natural forest and high value agricultural purposes such as fruit farming, while the yellow zone would be developed as a smart city with residential areas. The purple zone would be the industrial area.
“We may need some land expropriation to make way for transportation projects, but there would be no community relocation,” he assured. He, however, conceded that he did not expect everyone to agree with the new city plan. 
Hundred of farmers in Chachoengsao province had earlier protested about not being allowed to renew land rent contracts with the Treasury Department, fearing that land would be used for commercial purposes to serve the EEC development. The five key infrastructure investment projects in the EEC are: high-speed railway, expansion of U-tapao airport, expansion of Laem Chabang seaport and Map Ta Phut seaport, and aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul, with their combined investment estimated at Bt650 billion. 
Transport Minister Arkhom Termpitt-ayapaisith said these key investment projects would be completed in the next five to six years and a digital park project will be completed in 2022. 
The government has given priority to transport connectivity with CLMV countries – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam – he added.