Thailand - Future trends

The success of the country's economic programs rely on the effective implementation of reforms that the government is presently putting in place after the financial crisis revealed the weaknesses and gaps in Thai-land's economy. The Thai economy is poised for greater involvement in heavy industries, including automobile assembly, petrochemicals, electronics, and a more diversified food processing sector focused on value-added products such as ready-to-eat meals and canned foods. The economy has rebounded from the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, although the World Bank believes that it has yet to fully recover. Challenges facing the economy include weak infrastructure, labor skills that do not match the needs of an increasingly industrialized economy, and the need to re-organize the financial sector to ensure that loans are paid in order to avoid a crisis similar to that of 1997.

Thailand has greatly benefitted from the US$17.2 billion World Bank assistance package in terms of recovering from the crisis. However, due credit must also be given to the strong inflow of foreign direct investment and the robust performance of the tourism industry that enabled the economy to rebound and pose the first positive balance of trade since the 1960s.

Efforts at decentralizing political power to local governments and communities must be stepped up in order to ensure that the rest of the country progresses along with Bangkok. Another important factor is the development of physical infrastructure in the rest of the country to promote the growth of rural communities and increase their contribution to Thailand's economic development. To achieve this, the government's proposed strategy to actively partner with non-government organizations in assisting rural communities must be implemented effectively since using this approach would also ease the disparity in income among the regions and within the different economic classes. Furthermore, the government must actively pursue the stamping out of corruption in order to bring about an even higher rate of economic growth.

Among the other concerns that government must address in the years ahead is the pending maturation of HIV-infected citizens into full-blown AIDS carriers. As of 1999, 700,000 Thai people are infected with HIV. The World Bank predicted that in the year 2000, 55,000 Thais will have developed AIDS and 29,000 more will have become infected with HIV. This will negatively affect the productivity of the country's labor force since those who are afflicted with the disease are mostly women in their prime productive years.

Thailand's industrialization has taken a toll on its environment, as its resources were depleted of raw materials that were needed to support the growing industries. Having realized the impact of environmental degradation, the government is stepping up efforts to rehabilitate its denuded forests and heavily polluted and over-fished coastal resources. In agriculture, research and technology has produced strains of crops that are high yielding and suitable to rotation which enables the land to recover from the effects of monoculture (the cultivation of a single type of crop). However, the continuous use of pesticides and herbicides still inflict considerable environmental damage.

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