Thursday, December 03, 2020

Phuket can reap huge rewards from world’s biggest free-trade agreement

Nov 20. 2020
Royal Phuket Marina, Royal Phuket Marina Chairman
Royal Phuket Marina, Royal Phuket Marina Chairman
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By Gulu Lalvani
Special to The Nation

On November 15, the heads of 15 Asia-Pacific nations – including China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia – signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Representing a total population of 2.2 billion, the world’s biggest free trade agreement marked the emergence of the Asian era.

Bigger than either the European Union or the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the deal embraces practically one third of the global population and accounts for almost 30 per cent of worldwide GDP. With India scheduled to join within the first year, the total population covered by the agreement will climb to 3.5 billion and its proportion of global GDP will rise to 40 per cent.

Half the population of the world will trade under this new umbrella, in the region that enjoys the fastest GDP growth in the world. The potential is staggering: estimates are that the deal could add almost US$190 billion to global national income by 2030.

And the tropical paradise island, Phuket, sits like a tiny geographic bull’s eye dead-centre of the most exciting Asian advance in recent memory.

Phuket stands to reap massive gains if it recognises, and then seizes, the opportunity presented by this historic pact.

Long positioned as a potential regional IT hub, the realisation of that ambition has remained frustratingly elusive – but the time is now ripe, as an RCEP member, for Phuket and Thailand to get over the finish line.

Phuket has an abundance of international-standard accommodation, good internet connectivity, some of the cleanest air on the planet and a world-class beach lifestyle to die for. And now it has the opportunity to gain colossal increases in tourism as well as to reposition itself as a magnet for individuals and businesses eager to capitalise on its strategic location slap-bang in the centre of the world’s largest trading block.

Imagine the potential of being positioned no more than six or seven hours flying time from 50 per cent of the world’s population in the world’s fastest-growing economies. Imagine how easy it would be to attract the cream of the world’s workforce to your business. Imagine Phuket as a commercial powerhouse in Asia.

As one of Thailand’s busiest airports in terms of both freight and passengers, Phuket Airport has a capacity of 20 million passengers per year, handling more than 18 million on 115,000 flights during 2019.

Phuket’s infrastructure is there. The island’s appeal is undisputed; witness the number of ultra-high net worth families who have already been attracted to relocate here – from much further away than the countries in this new economic block. The future is bright. The potential is real. All we need is the vision to drive results.

Gulu Lalvani is founder and chairman of Royal Phuket Marina.

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