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March 9, 2009

Global Crisis Impact:
Thailand lacks safety net, says think tank

As the Thai economy comes under further downward pressure from the global recession, reports warn that the hardest hit from the downturn are the rural and urban poor.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, has pressed his Cabinet members to go to the provinces to hear views from local people as the government prepares new measures to boost the economy.

Thai government reports say the Thai economy faces its toughest year since the Asian financial crisis of a decade ago.



A university study predicts the Thai economy will contract over the first and second quarters of 2009 by up to five percent.

This stands in contrast to the earlier predicted forecast of up to four percent growth.

Now there are warnings of unemployment reaching over one million people. Thai economists, in a paper to the United Nations this week, said the crisis would hit the "grassroots," low income populations, the hardest.

The economists, from the Thailand Development Research Institute, a private sector funded think tank, said up to 30 percent of the population of 63 million is either poor or vulnerable to economic shocks, with most living in provincial regions.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva this week called on cabinet members to visit all 76 provincial regions to gain 'feedback' as part of the government's economic strategy.

Traveling to the central province of Lopburi, 150 kilometers from Bangkok Saturday, Abhisit held informal talks and meeting with local community representatives.

"We're talking about all the provinces; so I hope all the ministers are doing what I'm doing," he said. "And if we take two provinces each we should cover the whole country - that's a good step but communications have to be continuous."

Panitan Wattanayagorn, the government spokesman, said the policy was part of a more flexible strategy in the face of the economic recession.

"These days, people want to have more flexible and dynamic policies. You cannot formulate a policy from the top," he said. "We are listening from the ground and within the two months [so far] we have to be on the ground collecting feedback already, and that's what people want."

The Thai government has already set out an economic stimulus package to underpin the sliding economy, with plans for two further packages in the wings in the months ahead.

The government has already announced a package of over $3 billion to flow into the economy in the coming months. Panitan said further spending by the government may be necessary.

"Economic stimulus, although quite massive, is not compared to the massive scale of the economic trouble in the world. That won't be enough. This is why the government may have to come up with several new supplemental [packages] and in order to do that you need to listen to the people," said the government spokesman.

Economists are also warning that, in the absence of an effective social safety net, more people could be thrust into poverty in the months ahead.

But economists and business executives are hoping the Thai economy will show signs of recovery by the last quarter of 2009 as the economic stimulus packages elsewhere in the world start to impact the domestic economies.
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