Thailand

June 11, 2012, 8:16 am
Source: CIA World Factbook
Content Cover Image

A view of downtown Bangkok from the roof of the Chateau de Bangkok Hotel.

Thailand (previously Siam) is a nation of sixty seven million people in southeastern Asia, bordering the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, southeast of Burma (Myanmar), north of Malaysia, and west of Laos and Cambodia.

The central third of Thailand is within the watershed of the Chao Phray River which passes through the capital Bangkok to the Gulf of Thailand.

Bangkok (Krung Thep), with seven million people is the country's largest city and the center of a much larger metropolitan population.

Thailand's major environmental issues include:

  • air pollution from vehicle emissions;
  • water pollution from organic and factory wastes;
  • deforestation;
  • soil erosion; and,
  • wildlife populations threatened by illegal hunting

Thailand is susceptible to land subsidence in Bangkok area resulting from the depletion of the water table; and, droughts.

A unified Thai kingdom was established in the mid-14th century.

Known as Siam until 1939, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been taken over by a European power.

A bloodless revolution in 1932 led to a constitutional monarchy.

In alliance with Japan during World War II, Thailand became a US treaty ally in 1954 after sending troops to Korea and fighting alongside the US in Vietnam.

A military coup in September 2006 ousted then Prime Minister Thaksin Chinnawat.

December 2007 elections saw the pro-Thaksin People's Power Party (PPP) emerge at the head of a coalition government that took office in February 2008.

The anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD, aka yellow-shirts) in May 2008 began street demonstrations against the new government, eventually occupying the prime minister's office in August and Bangkok's two international airports in November. After an early December 2008 court ruling that dissolved the ruling PPP and two other coalition parties for election violations, the Democrat Party formed a new coalition government and Abhisit Wetchachiwa became prime minister.

In October 2008 Thaksin fled abroad in advance of an abuse of power conviction and has agitated his followers from abroad since then. Thaksin supporters under the banner of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD, aka red-shirts) rioted in April 2009, shutting down an ASEAN meeting in Pattaya.

Following a February 2010 court verdict confiscating half of Thaksin's frozen assets, the UDD staged large protests between March and May 2010, and occupied several blocks of downtown Bangkok. Clashes between security forces and protesters, elements of which were armed, resulted in at least 92 deaths and an estimated $1.5 billion in arson-related property losses. These protests exposed major cleavages in the Thai body politic that hampered the government and led to a general election in July 2011. Thaksin's youngest sister, Yinglak, led the Puea Thai party to an electoral win and assumed control of the government in August. Yinglak's leadership was almost immediately challenged by historic flooding in late 2011 that had large swathes of the country underwater and threatened to inundate Bangkok itself.

Since January 2004, thousands have been killed and wounded as separatists in Thailand's southern ethnic Malay-Muslim provinces continued the campaign of violence associated with their cause.

Geography

Location:

Southeastern Asia, bordering the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, southeast of Burma.

Thailand controls only land route from Asia to Malaysia and Singapore

Geographic Coordinates:

15 00 N
100 00 E

Area: 513,120 sq km ( land: 510,890 sq km - water: 2,230 sq km )

Land Boundaries: 4,863 km of border with Burma 1,800 km, Cambodia 803 km, Laos 1,754 km, Malaysia 506 km)

Coastline: 3,219 km

Maritime Claims:

territorial sea: 12 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

continental shelf: 200 m depth or to the depth of exploitation

Natural Hazards: land subsidence in Bangkok area resulting from the depletion of the water table; droughts

Terrain:

Central plain;
Khorat Plateau in the east;
mountains elsewhere.

The highest point is Doi Inthanon 2,576 m.

Climate:

tropical;

rainy, warm, cloudy southwest monsoon (mid-May to September);

dry, cool northeast monsoon (November to mid-March);

southern isthmus is always hot and humid

caption Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ecology and Biodiversity

1. Kayah-Karen montane rain forests
2. Central Indochina dry forests
3. Northern Thailand-Laos Moist Deciduous Forests
4. Luang Prabang montane rain forests
5. Northern Khorat Plateau moist deciduous forests
6. Southeastern Indochina dry evergreen forests
7. Cardamom Mountains rain forests
8. Chao Phraya Lowland Moist Deciduous Forests
9. Indochina mangroves
10. Chao Phraya freshwater swamp forests
11. Tenasserim-South Thailand Semi-Evergreen Rain Forests
12. Peninsular Malaysia rain forests
13. Peninsular Malaysia montane rain forests
14. Mayanmar coastal rain forests

See also:

Source: World Wildlife Fund

People and Society

Population: 67,091,089 (July 2012 est.)

Thailand (previously Siam) has always been a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional society. More than 85% speak a variant of Thai and share a common culture, though there is a strong sense of regional identity and pride in many areas of Thailand. Roughly one-third of the population is in central Thailand, including Bangkok; one-third in the northeast, with significant Lao and Khmer heritage; 20% in the north; and 15% in the south. Ethnic Malay Muslims comprise a majority in the three southernmost provinces.

Central Thai is the language taught in schools and used in government. Lao, as well as “Isaan dialect”, is spoken widely in northeastern Thailand; “Gam Muang” or northern dialect is spoken in the north; and a southern Thai dialect in the mid-south. Several other Tai dialects are spoken among smaller groups, such as the Shan (Tai Yai), Lue, and Phutai.

Up to 12% of Thai are of significant Chinese heritage, but the Sino-Thai community is the best integrated in Southeast Asia. Other groups include the Khmer in border provinces with Cambodia; the Mon, who are substantially assimilated with the Thai; and the Vietnamese. Smaller mountain-dwelling tribes, such as the Hmong, Mein, and the Karen, number about 788,024.

The population is mostly rural, concentrated in the rice-growing areas of the central, northeastern, and northern regions. However, as Thailand continues to industrialize, its urban population--31.6% of total population, principally in the Bangkok area--is growing.

Thailand's highly successful government-sponsored family planning program has resulted in a dramatic decline in population growth from 3.1% in 1960 to less than 1% today. Life expectancy also has risen, a positive reflection of Thailand's public health efforts. Thailand’s model intervention programs in the 1990s also averted what could have been a major AIDS epidemic. Even so, today, approximately 1.4% of the adult population lives with HIV/AIDS.

The constitution mandates at least 12 years of free education; however, only 9 years are compulsory. In early 2009, the government put into effect a program to provide 15 years of free education (3 years in preschool and grades 1-12). Education accounts for approximately 18.0% of total government expenditures.

Theravada Buddhism is the major religion of Thailand, practiced by about 90% of its people. The government permits religious diversity, and other major religions are represented, with Muslim communities scattered throughout Thailand, and in larger numbers in the southern region. Spirit worship/animism and Hindu-Brahmic rituals are widely practiced.

Ethnic Groups: Thai 75%, Chinese 14%, other 11%

Age Structure:

 0-14 years: 19.9% (male 6,779,723/female 6,466,625)
15-64 years: 70.9% (male 23,410,091/female 23,913,499)
65 years and over: 9.2% (male 2,778,012/female 3,372,203) (2011 est.)

Population Growth Rate: 0.543% (2012 est.)

Birthrate: 12.81 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Death Rate: 7.38 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)

Net Migration Rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth: 73.83 years

male: 71.45 years
female: 76.33 years (2012 est.)

Total Fertility Rate: 1.66 children born/woman (2012 est.)

Languages: Thai, English (secondary language of the elite), ethnic and regional dialects

Literacy ( age 15 and over can read and write) : 92.6%

Urbanization: 34% of total population (2010) growing at a 1.8% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)

History

Southeast Asia has been inhabited for more than half a million years. Archaeological studies suggest that by 4000 BC, communities in what is now Thailand had emerged as centers of early bronze metallurgy. This development, along with the cultivation of wet rice, provided the impetus for social and political organization. Research suggests that these innovations may actually have been transmitted from there to the rest of Asia, including to China.

The Thai are related linguistically to Tai groups originating in southern China. Migrations from southern China to Southeast Asia may have occurred in the 6th and 7th centuries. Malay, Mon, and Khmer civilizations flourished in the region prior to the arrival of the ethnic Tai.

The Thai traditionally date the founding of their nation to the 13th century, though kingdoms of Thai peoples existed in the north and in the south before then. According to tradition, in 1238, Thai chieftains overthrew their Khmer overlords at Sukhothai and established a Thai kingdom. After its decline, a new Thai kingdom emerged in 1350 on the Chao Praya River at Ayutthaya. At the same time, there was the equally important Tai kingdom of Lanna, centered in Chiang Mai, which for centuries rivaled Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, and still defines northern Thai identity; a southern kingdom centered in Nakhon Si Thammarat in the south also pre-dated Sukhothai.

The first ruler of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, King Rama Thibodi, made two important contributions to Thai history: the establishment and promotion of Theravada Buddhism as the official religion--to differentiate his kingdom from the neighboring Hindu kingdom of Angkor--and the compilation of the Dharmashastra, a legal code based on Hindu sources and traditional Thai custom. The Dharmashastra remained a tool of Thai law until late in the 19th century. Beginning with the Portuguese in the 16th century, Ayutthaya had some contact with the West, but until the 1800s, its relations with neighboring kingdoms and principalities, as well as with China, were of primary importance.

After more than 400 years of power, in 1767, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya was brought down by invading Burmese armies and its capital burned. After a single-reign capital established at Thonburi by Taksin, a new capital city was founded in 1782, across the Chao Phraya at the site of present-day Bangkok, by the founder of the current Chakri dynasty. The first Chakri king was crowned Rama I. Rama I's heirs became increasingly concerned with the threat of European colonialism after British victories in neighboring Burma in 1826.

The first Thai recognition of Western power in the region was the Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the United Kingdom in 1826. In 1833, the United States began diplomatic exchanges with Siam, as Thailand was called until 1938. However, it was during the later reigns of Rama IV (or King Mongkut, 1851-68), and his son Rama V (King Chulalongkorn, 1868-1910), that Thailand established firm rapprochement with Western powers. The Thais believe it was the diplomatic skills of these monarchs, combined with the modernizing reforms of the governments, that made Siam the only country in South and Southeast Asia to avoid European colonization.

In 1932, a bloodless coup transformed Thailand from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy. King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) initially accepted this change but later surrendered the kingship to his 10-year-old nephew. Upon his abdication, King Prajadhipok said that the obligation of a ruler was to reign for the good of the whole people, not for a select few.

Although nominally a democracy with a constitutional monarchy after 1932, Thailand was ruled by a series of military governments interspersed with brief periods of democracy. Following the 1932 revolution that imposed constitutional limits on the monarchy, Thai politics was dominated for a half-century by the military and bureaucratic elite. Changes of government were effected primarily by means of a long series of mostly bloodless coups. Thailand was occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War until Japan's defeat in 1945.

Beginning with a brief experiment in democracy during the mid-1970s (the so-called “October generation” between 1973-76), civilian democratic political institutions slowly gained greater authority, culminating in 1988 when Chatichai Choonhaven--leader of the Thai Nation Party--assumed office as the country's first democratically elected Prime Minister in more than a decade. In 1991, yet another bloodless coup ended his term. After a year-long largely civilian interim government and inconclusive elections, former army commander Suchinda Kraprayoon was appointed Prime Minister. The military violently suppressed demonstrations in May 1992, with at least 50 protesters killed. Reaction to the violence, including a televised meeting with King Bhumibol, forced Suchinda to resign, leading to new elections in September 1992.

Political parties that had opposed the military in May 1992 won by a narrow majority, and Democrat Party leader Chuan Leekpai served as Prime Minister until May 1995. The Thai Nation Party won the largest number of parliamentary seats in subsequent elections, with party leader Banharn Silpa-Archa serving as Prime Minister for little more than a year. New Aspiration Party leader Chavalit Youngchaiyudh formed a coalition government after November 1996 elections. The onset of the Asian financial crisis caused a loss of confidence in the Chavalit government, led to a new constitution, and returned Chuan Leekpai to power in November 1997.

In January 2001, telecommunications billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra and his new Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party won a decisive plurality victory on a populist platform of economic growth and development. Thaksin’s premiership was marked by a confident foreign policy, implementation of his populist policies, and accusations of anti-democratic actions, including undermining independent bodies, limiting freedom of the press, and a 2003 war on drugs which led to 1,300 unsolved murders. In February 2005, Thaksin was re-elected by an overwhelming majority, sweeping 377 out of 500 parliamentary seats for Thailand’s first-ever single-party outright electoral victory. Soon after Prime Minister Thaksin's second term began, allegations of corruption emerged against his government. Peaceful anti-government mass demonstrations grew, and hundreds of thousands marched in the streets to demand Thaksin's resignation. Prime Minister Thaksin dissolved the parliament in February 2006 and called snap elections in April. The main opposition parties boycotted the polls, and the judiciary subsequently annulled the elections.

Before new elections could be held, in September 2006 a group of top military officers overthrew the caretaker Thaksin administration in a non-violent coup d’etat, repealed the 1997 constitution, and dissolved both houses of parliament. The coup leaders promulgated an interim constitution and appointed Surayud Chulanont as interim Prime Minister. In a national referendum in August 2007, a majority of Thai voters approved a new constitution drafted by an assembly appointed by the coup leaders. The interim government held multi-party elections under provisions of the new constitution in December 2007, and the pro-Thaksin People's Power Party (PPP) won a plurality of 233 of the 480 seats in the lower house of parliament. PPP leader Samak Sundaravej formed a coalition government and formally took office as Prime Minister in February 2008.

Samak was forced from office in September 2008 by a Constitutional Court ruling that he had violated the constitution’s conflict of interest provisions by hosting a televised cooking show. His successor, Somchai Wongsawat, PPP leader and brother-in-law of former Prime Minister Thaksin, also was forced from office by the Constitutional Court when it dissolved the PPP and two other coalition parties on December 2, 2008 for election law violations in the December 2007 elections. A split among ex-PPP members of parliament paved the way for parliament’s election of Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva as Prime Minister on December 15, 2008.

Efforts by the two PPP leaders to amend the 2007 constitution and provide amnesty to banned politicians, including ex-Prime Minister Thaksin, led to a renewal of street protests in mid-2008, some of which resulted in violence between security forces and protesters and between pro- and anti-government demonstrators. In 2008, anti-government “yellow-shirt” protesters occupied Government House from late August until early December; blockaded parliament in October; and occupied and forced the closure of Bangkok’s airports for several days in late November through early December. “Red-shirt” protests against the Abhisit government commenced in early 2009, leading to the disruption of a major Asian summit in Pattaya and riots in Bangkok in April 2009.

The “red-shirts” continued to hold short demonstrations through 2009 and into 2010 and intensified their protests on March 12, 2010, 2 weeks after the Supreme Court directed the government to seize $1.4 billion of Thaksin’s assets. The tense standoff between government security forces and protesters came to a head on April 10; 25 people were killed in street clashes, 5 of them security personnel.

Government efforts to negotiate a settlement with “red-shirt” leaders ultimately failed, and on May 14 troops began to seal off the protest site. A week of street battles ensued, climaxing on May 19 when “red-shirt” leaders surrendered to police. In the immediate aftermath several buildings, including Thailand’s largest shopping mall, were torched by elements of the “red-shirt” demonstrators. Protesters also set fire to government offices in several provinces. In total, 92 people were killed and over 1,800 injured during the 2-month protest. Roughly half of the "red-shirt" leaders were arrested or surrendered, while others fled abroad. Many of those leaders later returned to Thailand to face legal charges. “Red-shirt” protests continued at regular intervals throughout the rest of 2010 and into the 2011 election season, though they remained nonviolent.

In July 2011, the Thaksin-affiliated Puea Thai Party--led by Thaksin’s youngest sister, Yingluck Shinawatra--claimed a decisive electoral victory, obtaining 265 out of 500 parliamentary seats in general elections. Yingluck was endorsed as the Prime Minister on August 10, 2011. Although Yingluck and her governing coalition enjoy a strong political mandate, political tensions persist. The most divisive issue relates to the potential return of former Prime Minister Thaksin, which the Puea Thai-led government raised as a possibility several times during the second half of 2011. Many of Yingluck’s campaign promises echoed the populist platform of the Thaksin era--crop subsidies for farmers, a minimum wage increase, tablet computers for schools. However, following devastating floods in the latter half of 2011 that claimed more than 600 lives and caused billions in economic damage, the Yingluck administration had to redirect resources to focus on recovery and notably pushed back the minimum wage implementation to April 2012.

Thailand's southern border provinces have long been host to an ethno-nationalist Malay Muslim separatist movement rallying around a regional “Patani” identity. Since 2004, separatists have conducted an increasingly violent insurgency in the provinces of Narathiwat, Yala, Pattani, and Songkhla against symbols and representatives of central government authority, as well as against civilians, both Buddhist and Muslim, which has resulted in thousands of deaths.

Government

Government Type: constitutional monarchy

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. From 1992 and until the 2006 coup, the country was considered a functioning democracy with constitutional changes of government. Generally free and fair multi-party elections held in 2007 subsequently restored democratic governance 1 year after the coup, and the 2011 election preceded a stable transition of power between parties. The King has little direct power under Thailand's constitution but is a symbol of national identity and unity. King Bhumibol (Rama IX)--who has been on the throne since 1946--commands enormous popular respect and moral authority, which he has used on occasion to resolve political crises that have threatened national stability.

Under the 2007 constitution, the National Assembly consists of two chambers--the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate is a non-partisan body with 150 members, 76 of whom are directly elected (one per province). The remaining 74 are appointed by a panel comprised of judges and senior independent officials from a list of candidates compiled by the Election Commission. The House has 500 members, 375 of whom are directly elected from constituent districts and the remainder drawn proportionally from party lists.

Capital: Bangkok - 6.902 million (2009)

Administrative Divisions: Thailand's 77 provinces include the metropolis of greater Bangkok. Bangkok's governor is popularly elected, but those of the remaining provinces are career civil servants appointed by the Ministry of Interior.

77 provinces (changwat, singular and plural):

1. Amnat Charoen,
2. Ang Thong,
3. Bueng Kan
4. Buriram,
5. Chachoengsao,
6. Chai Nat,
7. Chaiyaphum,
8. Chanthaburi,
9. Chiang Mai,
10. Chiang Rai,
11. Chon Buri,
12. Chumphon,
13. Kalasin,
14. Kamphaeng Phet,
15. Kanchanaburi,
16. Khon Kaen,
17. Krabi,
18. Krung Thep Mahanakhon (Bangkok)
19. Lampang,
20. Lamphun,
21. Loei,
22. Lop Buri,
23. Mae Hong Son,
24. Maha Sarakham,
25. Mukdahan,
26. Nakhon Nayok,
27. Nakhon Pathom,
28. Nakhon Phanom,
29. Nakhon Ratchasima,
30. Nakhon Sawan,
31. Nakhon Si Thammarat,
32. Nan,
33. Narathiwat,
34. Nong Bua Lamphu,
35. Nong Khai
36. Nonthaburi,
37. Pathum Thani,
38. Pattani,
39. Phangnga,
40. Phatthalung,
41. Phayao,
42. Phetchabun,
43. Phetchaburi,
44. Phichit,
45. Phitsanulok,
46. Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya,
47. Phrae,
48. Phuket,
49. Prachin Buri,
50. Prachuap Khiri Khan,
51. Ranong,
52. Ratchaburi,
53. Rayong,
54. Roi Et,
55. Sa Kaeo,
56. Sakon Nakhon,
57. Samut Prakan,
58. Samut Sakhon,
59. Samut Songkhram,
60. Sara Buri,
61. Satun,
62. Sing Buri,
63. Sisaket,
64. Songkhla,
65. Sukhothai,
66. Suphan Buri,
67. Surat Thani,
68. Surin,
69. Tak,
79. Trang,
71. Trat,
72. Ubon Ratchathani,
73. Udon Thani,
74. Uthai Thani,
75. Uttaradit,
76. Yala,
77. Yasothon

caption Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

Independence Date:  1238 (traditional founding date; never colonized)

Legal System: based on civil law system with influences of common law; has not accepted compulsory International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction.

Thailand's legal system blends principles of traditional Thai and Western laws. Under the constitution, the Constitutional Court is the highest court of appeals, though its jurisdiction is limited to clearly defined constitutional issues. Its members are nominated by a committee of judges, leaders in parliament, and senior independent officials, whose nominees are confirmed by the Senate and appointed by the King. The Courts of Justice have jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases and are organized in three tiers: Courts of First Instance, the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court of Justice. Administrative courts have jurisdiction over suits between private parties and the government, and cases in which one government entity is suing another. In Thailand's southern border provinces, where Muslims constitute the majority of the population, Provincial Islamic Committees have limited jurisdiction over probate, family, marriage, and divorce cases.

Notes on transnational disputes:

  • separatist violence in Thailand's predominantly Muslim southern provinces prompt border closures and controls with Malaysia to stem terrorist activities;

  • Southeast Asian states have enhanced border surveillance to check the spread of avian flu;

  • talks continue on completion of demarcation with Laos but disputes remain over several islands in the Mekong River;

  • despite continuing border committee talks, Thailand must deal with Karen and other ethnic rebels, refugees, and illegal cross-border activities, and as of 2006, over 116,000 Karen, Hmong, and other refugees and asylum seekers from Burma;

  • Cambodia and Thailand dispute sections of boundary; in 2011 Thailand and Cambodia resorted to arms in the dispute over the location of the boundary on the precipice surmounted by Preah Vihear temple ruins, awarded to Cambodia by ICJ decision in 1962 and part of a planned UN World Heritage site;

  • Thailand is studying the feasibility of jointly constructing the Hatgyi Dam on the Salween river near the border with Burma;

  • in 2004, international environmentalist pressure prompted China to halt construction of 13 dams on the Salween River that flows through China, Burma, and Thailand;

  • 140,000 mostly Karen refugees fleeing civil strife, political upheaval and economic stagnation in Burma live in remote camps in Thailand near the border

International Environmental Agreements

Thailand is party to international agreements on: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94,  and Wetlands . It has signed, but not ratified: the Law of the Sea .

Water

See: Water profile of Thailand

Total Renewable Water Resources: 409.9 cu km (1999)

Freshwater Withdrawal:

Total: 82.75 cu km/yr (2% domestic, 2% industrial, 95% agricultural)
per capita: 1,288 cu m/yr (2000)

Agriculture

Agricultural products: rice, cassava (tapioca), rubber, corn, sugarcane, coconuts, soybeans

Irrigated Land: 49,860 sq km (2003)

Resources

Natural Resources: Tin, rubber, natural gas, tungsten, tantalum, timber, lead, fish, gypsum, lignite, fluorite, arable land.

Land Use:

arable land: 27.54%
permanent crops: 6.93%
other: 65.53% (2005)

Energy

See: Energy profile of Thailand

  Production Consumption Export Import Proved Reserves
Electricity 139 billion kWh
(2008 est.
131.6 billion kWh
(2008 est.)
1.979 billion kWh
(2009 est.)
2.313 billion kWh
(2009 est.)
 
Oil 406,800 bbl/day
(2010 est.)
988,000 bbl/day
(2010 est.)
269,100 bbl/day
(2009 est.)
807,100 bbl/day
(2009 est.)
435 million bbl
(1 January 2011 est.)
Natural Gas 30.88 billion cu m
(2009 est.)
39.17 billion cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(2009 est.)
8.29 billion cu m
(2009 est.)
312.2 billion cu m
(1 January 2011 est.)

 Also see: Asia Pacific Energy Research Centre

Economy

The Thai economy is export-dependent, with exports of goods and services equivalent to nearly 70% of GDP in 2010. Thailand's recovery from the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis (which brought a double-digit drop in GDP) relied largely on external demand from the United States and other foreign markets. From 2001-2006, the administration of former Prime Minister Thaksin embraced a "dual track" economic policy that combined domestic stimulus programs with Thailand's traditional promotion of open markets and foreign investment. Real GDP growth strengthened sharply from 2.2% in 2001 to 7.1% in 2003 and 6.3% in 2004. In 2005-2007, economic expansion moderated, averaging 4.9% real GDP growth, due to domestic political uncertainty, rising violence in Thailand's three southernmost provinces, and repercussions from the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. Thailand's economy in 2007 relied heavily on resilient export growth (at an 18.2% annual rate), particularly in the automobile, petrochemicals, and electronics sectors.

Political uncertainty and the global financial crisis in 2008 weakened Thailand’s economic growth by reducing domestic and international demand for both its goods and services (including tourism). Due to minimum exposure to toxic assets, Thai banks experienced limited direct impact from the global financial crisis. Nonetheless, Thai economic growth slowed to 2.5% in 2008, with fourth-quarter growth dropping below zero. In 2009, the contraction continued, with an average year-on-year economic growth of minus 2.3% in 2009.

The Thai economy posted a recovery in 2010, growing at 7.8% on the strength of its exports, which surged by 28%, in spite of the March-May political protests that took place in Bangkok. Going into 2011, the government anticipated moderate growth in the range of 3%-5%. The economy achieved 3.1% growth over the first three quarters of 2011 despite supply chain disruptions caused by Japan's tsunami and an overall slowdown in the global economy. October and November flooding in Thailand's central region, however, inundated several key industrial estates on Bangkok’s periphery and halted economic activity in affected areas. Industrial production bore the brunt of flood damages, with manufacturing output declining 36% year-on-year for October. As a result, the Thai economy was expected to achieve only 1.5% annual growth for 2011. Unemployment, which had hovered around 1% since 2010, was expected to reach as high as 2.3% in 2011's fourth quarter as a direct result of flooding. Core and headline inflation as of November 2011 were running at 2.9% and 4.19%, respectively. The Bank of Thailand has forecast an economic recovery in 2012 with GDP growth of 4.8%, driven by domestic demand largely in the form of government spending and investment on flood reconstruction. Estimates for 2012 GDP growth range significantly: the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has forecast 3.8% and the World Bank 4%, and in November 2011 Deputy Prime Minister Kittirat estimated that growth could reach as high as 7%.

The Thai Government welcomes foreign investment, and investors who are willing to meet certain requirements can apply for special investment privileges through the Board of Investment. U.S. investors may qualify for additional privileges under the Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations.

The organized labor movement remains weak and divided in Thailand. Less than 2% of the total work force is unionized, although nearly 10% of industrial workers and more than 59% of state enterprise workers are unionized. In 2009, efforts to restructure the State Railway authority met resistance from the powerful railways union, including a short strike that halted trains nationwide, showing that organized labor still has potential political clout. As a result of the global financial crisis and business restructuring, employers hired large numbers of short-term contract workers. While employers claimed to have done this in order to maintain business flexibility for greater competitiveness during financially uncertain times, labor advocates viewed these actions as reducing job security and attempts to weaken the organized labor movement.

Roughly 40% of Thailand's labor force is employed in agriculture, although agriculture accounts for only 12% of GDP (data based on the Thai National Statistics Office). Rice is the country's most important crop; Thailand is the largest exporter in the world rice market. Other agricultural commodities produced in significant amounts include fish and fishery products, tapioca, rubber, corn, and sugar. Exports of processed foods such as canned tuna, canned pineapples, and frozen shrimp are also significant.

Thailand's increasingly diversified manufacturing sector is the largest contributor to growth. Industries registering rapid increases in production have included computers and electronics, furniture, wood products, canned food, toys, plastic products, gems, and jewelry. High-technology products such as integrated circuits and parts, hard disc drives, electrical appliances, vehicles, and vehicle parts are now leading Thailand's growth in exports. With stronger exports and a rise in inflationary pressure, the Bank of Thailand started to tighten its monetary policy in mid-July 2010 after having followed a low interest rate policy since April 2009. Large surpluses in both the current and capital accounts contributed to the Thai baht's appreciation relative to the dollar throughout 2009 and 2010. Machinery and parts, vehicles, electronic integrated circuits, chemicals, crude oil and fuels, and iron and steel are among Thailand's principal imports.

Through 2010, the United States was Thailand's third-largest single-country export market after China and Japan, and the third-largest supplier after Japan and China. Thailand's traditional major markets have been the United States, Japan, Europe, and ASEAN member countries (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam). Growing export markets include China, Hong Kong, Australia, the Middle East, South Africa, and India. Thailand is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Cairns Group of agricultural exporters.

Tourism contributes significantly to the Thai economy (approximately 6%). The tourism industry was on track for a record year in 2011 before the October-November flooding, the traditional start of the industry’s peak season. International tourist arrivals declined significantly during both months, but remained up by 15% year-on-year through October.

Bangkok and its environs are the most prosperous part of Thailand, and the seasonally barren northeast is the poorest. An overriding concern of successive Thai governments has been to reduce these regional income differentials, which have been exacerbated by rapid economic growth in and around Bangkok. The government has tried to stimulate provincial economic growth with programs such as the Eastern Seaboard project and various populist and crop price support policies.

Although the economy has demonstrated moderate positive growth in recent years, future performance depends on moving up on the value-added ladder away from low-wage industries where regional competition is growing. Key reforms are needed to open the financial sector; improve the foreign investment climate, including updating telecommunications capabilities; and stimulate domestic investment and consumption to balance reliance on exports. Logistics networks and electricity generation increasingly run the risk of bottlenecks and may pose a challenge to growth. Thailand's relative shortage of engineers and skilled technical personnel may limit its future technological creativity and productivity, even as the government is pushing for an increase in the proportion that creative industries contribute to GDP from 12% to 20% by 2015.

GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): $601.4 billion (2011 est.)

GDP: (Official Exchange Rate): $345.6 billion (2011 est.)

GDP- per capita (PPP): $9,700 (2011 est.)

GDP- composition by sector:

agriculture: 13.3%
industry: 34%
services: 52.7% (2011 est.)

Industries: tourism, textiles and garments, agricultural processing, beverages, tobacco, cement, light manufacturing such as jewelry and electric appliances, computers and parts, integrated circuits, furniture, plastics, automobiles and automotive parts; world's second-largest tungsten producer and third-largest tin producer

Currency: Baht

Glossary

Citation

Agency, C., & Department, U. (2012). Thailand. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/164690

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