By Silapakorn Sangsinchai,
The Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) will double the amount of land used for manufacturing in the three provinces it spans, the EEC Office has said.
The Eastern Economic Corridor Office (EECO) is expecting a large inflow of private investment, its secretary general, Kanit Sangsubhan, said, and a city plan is set to come into effect next month once the new Cabinet is in place.
In an exclusive interview with The Nation, Kanit said the draft had been finalised.
The government has promoted the EEC concept extensively as an industrial hub for not just Thailand but all of Southeast Asia.
About 1 million rai has been earmarked for manufacturing, Kanit said – doubling the size of the current industrial zone spanning Chachoengsao, Chon Buri and Rayong.
“It sounds very large, but the increase comes from a small base,” he said in apparent response to critics concerned that industrial expansion will come at the expense of green and agricultural zones.
“Industrial land use is being extended without touching the green zone or the highly productive agricultural zone,” he said. “We’ve only reduced the size of the unproductive agricultural area.”
Factories will be clustered in industrial parks, with the EECO targeting 4,000 to 5,000 Chinese firms to set up operations in the region.
The office has worked with operators of existing industrial estates in the EEC, such as Amata Corp and CP Land, to prepare locations and facilities for Chinese companies expected to arrive soon.
Thai firms such as PTT and CP are being encouraged to form partnerships with overseas entities so they can take advantage of foreign direct investment, said Kanit.
Peng Chun, president of China Investment Corp (CIC), which is interested in the EEC under China’s sovereign wealth fund, last week met Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and EECO representatives to discuss plans, said Kanit.
The US$800-billion Chinese sovereign wealth fund could in the future have equity investments in Chinese companies backing the Thai venture, he said.
More high-tech Japanese and European firms are also expected to invest in the region.
E-commerce giant Alibaba, electric-vehicle maker BYD and telecom specialist Hua Wei are among Chinese companies pondering the possibilities.
Kanit said Alibaba is in the next few months expected to decide on proposed investments in an automation warehouse and financial services for Chinese tourists.
He was confident that the new government will accelerate its Bt650 billion worth of major infrastructure projects, including a high-speed railway, extension of U-tapao Airport and the expansion of capacity at three seaports.
The Bt182.5-billion high-speed rail system connecting Don Mueang, Suvarnabhumi and U-tapao airports has already been approved by the Cabinet, with the contract won by a consortium led by Charoen Pokphand Holdings. That contract is expected to be signed with the State Railway of Thailand soon.
The Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand and PTT-Gulf Consortium will also soon be signing a Bt55.4-billion deal on the second Phase 3 project for Map Ta Phut Port project, Kanit said.
Both projects are expected to be green-lit next month, to be followed shortly after by investment arrangements for expanding the Laem Chabang deep-sea port at a cost of Bt84.4 billion.
All three undertakings are public-private partnership projects.
Kanit expected both public and private investment to be significant in the next 12 months as three or four infrastructure projects get rolling and foreign firms open their coffers.
“Significant foreign direct investment in the EEC is expected within a year,” said Kanit. The EECO estimates the total in the first five years at Bt1.7 trillion ($49.9 billion).
Builders of the high-speed railway are allowed to choose the locations of stations from Chachoengsao, Chon Buri and Pattaya to Sriracha to facilitate the development of a continuous area. Most locations chosen will be near existing communities to accommodate commuters via feeder systems of buses, monorail trains and ground-level trams.
Pattaya City has proposed a monorail train or tram line connecting to the high-speed train, while Rayong is eyeing a similar system to link with U-tapao Station.
The government estimates that this feeder transit system will cost relatively little since BYD, the project contractor, has considerable experience with monorail trains in various countries, Kanit said.
The cost of the monorail project is estimated to be three times cheaper than an underground railway.