AEC less than two years away, and Thailand still faces strong challenges

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AEC less than two years away, and Thailand still faces strong challenges

The editorial for the 1 January edition of the English language newspaper The Nation focused on the challenges faced by Thailand and that must be overcome if the country is to derive the perceived benefits from the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

Although the editorial noted Thailand had just ‘one year left before the…AEC hits the launch pad’, the reality is that it is almost two years, with the AEC not starting until 31 December 2015. Even so, two years is still an extremely short time for Thailand to get even close to being ready for the new regime.

As The Nation pointed out, corruption and political crises were the chief threats to Thailand benefitting from the AEC. As they note, ‘Economic integration is expected to improve competitiveness by transforming the Asean countries into a single market and production base. If Thailand is to benefit from the free flow of goods, trade, investment, capital and labour, it needs improvements in key areas.’

The political crises over the years since the coup of 2006, and especially the upheavals of 2010 and late last year have retarded efforts across the board when it comes to focusing on the key factors for AEC success for Thailand.

As The Nation editorial pointed out, ‘Corruption remains widespread and rampant, as Transparency International’s most recent survey revealed. Thailand fell from 88th to 102nd this year and now languishes behind four Asean neighbours – Singapore (5th), Brunei (38th), Malaysia (53rd) and the Philippines (82nd). The rankings plunge is an alarm bell for Thai authorities, who must now take act serious actions to combat high-level graft. Among the most notoriously corruption-tainted last year were the water management and rice-pledging schemes.’

Thailand needed to implement strong and effective graft eradication programmes, similar to those which have been used over the years in places like Singapore and Hong Kong, but the government needed to enact clear-cut laws and empower graft-busters in order to dramatically rein-in the level of corruption.
Education is the next key area and yet another sector where Thailand fails miserably.

‘We rank worst among the eight Southeast Asian countries evaluated in the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report for 2012-2013. The frequent change of education minister and lack of visions have taken their toll. Four ministers in the space of two years under one government has hardly helped launched reform, let alone continue it,’ wrote The Nation.
English will be the official language of the AEC and that alone should have long ago led to a stringer push for better English language skills to be taught in schools.

Failure to address these issues may mean Thailand loses ground to its neighbours instead of being one of the regional leaders of the AEC.