Friday, November 30, 2007

Thailand fixed carriers plot comeback plans

Thailand’s two state-run carriers, the Telephone Organisation of Thailand (TOT) and Communications Authority of Thailand (CAT), have both announced plans for turning around declining voice revenues, according to local media reports.

TOT’s board last week approved a four-year turnaround plan that involves increasing broadband Internet from 200,000 ports currently to 3.3 million ports as part of a 64 billion baht (around US$2 billion) spending package, while CAT announced that five consortiums have made bids for a 2.6 billion baht (US$83 million) ASON fibre network.

According to The Nation, TOT’s plan will also involve increasing fixed lines from 3 million to 5 million and upgrading 80 per cent of its infrastructure to a next-generation network. It also calls for a 3G network to be up and running to offer a mix of broadcasting and telecom services.

TOT and CAT jointly own Thai Mobile, currently the only operator with 3G spectrum. However, disputes regarding ownership and management have curtailed its widespread rollout. TOT will present its rehabilitation plan to the Finance Ministry for approval next month. It also involves reducing staff from 19,000 to 17,000 through an early retirement programme, according to The Nation.

Meanwhile, a consortium involving Huawei and Thailand’s Loxley group has been added to the approved bids list for CAT’s ASON project. The Bangkok Post reported that five groups of companies have now met the requirements to bid for the project. Ericsson, Jasmine, Marubeni and NEC had already made the cut.

The project has been somewhat controversial, as CAT relaxed a requirement that bidders must have completed a project worth at least 390 million baht. The board later reduced the requirement to 200 million baht to allow more companies to compete. Huawei was also involved in CAT’s nationwide CDMA 2000 1x network in 51 provinces, which is the subject of a dispute over late delivery of the network.

Biofuel consumption soars in Thailand: biodiesel up more than 1000%, ethanol up 64%

The consumption of alternative fuels in Thailand is growing rapidly as the government continues to keep contributions to the state Oil Fund lower for biofuels than for traditional fuels. Demand for B5 soared by growing over 1000%, E10 grew with 64% and natural gas for vehicles more than doubled. Thai ethanol producers who were seriously mired by overproduction at the beginning of the year see their troubles coming to an end.

Average B5 diesel retail prices are now one baht per litre lower than petro-diesel (€0.021/liter or $0.121/gallon), and 'gasohol' (E10) is 4 baht (€0.086/liter or $0.485/gallon) cheaper than premium petrol and 3.30 baht (€0.071/liter or $0.4/gallon) cheaper than regular petrol.

According to Metta Bunturngsuk, director-general of the Department of Energy, B5 diesel (5% biodiesel) consumption jumped from 3.43 million litres in October last year to 65.13 million litres last month - a staggering increase, but not exceptional for a fuel that is just beginning to take off. Petro-diesel grew slightly by 2.2% to 1.49 billion litres from 1.43. billion a year earlier.

Ethanol is a more established fuel in Thailand. The total consumption of gasohol 95 and 91 - or 10% ethanol mixed with 90% gasoline - rose 63.7% to 179 million litres in October from 110 million litres during the same period last year.

Premium and regular gasoline consumption fell 11.4% to 441 million litres from 498 million litres last year, the second consecutive month it has fallen.

Consumption of natural gas for vehicles also jumped 110% in October to 29.6 million cubic feet per day (mmcfd) from 14 million mmcfd last year. Next year NGV consumption is likely to double from this year due to strong support from the Energy Ministry and PTT Plc, which is offering free NGV kits and is selling the fuel at petrol stations. However, Mettha Bunthuengsuk conceded that NGV is now unavailable for sale in some areas since there is a shortage of gas cylinders:

Thailand's state-owned energy giant PTT Plc had already shifted a purchase order for the cylinders to companies in Brazil from South Korean companies in order to address the shortage. It is expected the problem would be solved in a few months.

Liquid petroleum gas (LPG) consumption grew 15.6% from 9.2 million kilogrammes to 10.7 million kilogrammes as more motorists converted their engines to gas from petrol. But the figure will probably drop next year as the government says it will no longer subsidise LPG, which is also used as cooking gas.

Crude oil imports in October dropped 12.8% from 4.238 million barrels to 3.696 million barrels. The value of crude oil imports also dropped 0.3% from 62.56 billion baht last year to 62.35 billion this year.

Energy policy planners also announced that they intended to promote new names for what is currently described in Thailand as 'gasohol': gasoline E10/95, gasoline E10/91 and gasoline E20/95.

Diesel fuel will be completely replaced by B2 nationwide on April 1, 2008. The new names will be B2, B5 or whatever proportion of biofuel is mixed with regular fuel.

References:
Bangkok Post: Ethanol-based fuel sales jump in October - November 27, 2007.

Bangkok Post: Bio-fuel use soars in first 10 months - November 27, 2007.

Biopact: Thai ethanol producers stuck with surplus - April 09, 2007

Viagra stiffens the elections in Thailand

Candidates in next month's fiercely contested Thai election have been offering Viagra in exchange for votes, it was alleged Friday.

Elderly male voters are being wooed with the little blue pill used to treat sexual dysfunction at social functions, claimed Sayan Nopcha, a campaigner for the People Power Party (PPP) in Pathum Thani, near Bangkok.

"A politician is giving out Viagra to gain popularity and votes. I think this is a very bad method of vote buying," Sayan told the Bangkok Post. He showed journalists two tablets as "proof" of his allegations and warned that cheap Viagra substitutes could be very damaging to the health of voters.

The December 23 general election is to return power to the people after the September 2006 coup d'etat that brought a military-appointed government to power.

The PPP, widely considered a proxy party for deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, is fiercely contesting the election against 40 other parties for 480 seats in the lower house.

There are 4,200 candidates running for election. Critics of the ousted prime minister claim that his "Viagra" is his recent purchase of Manchester City Football Club in England to keep his name in the news in soccer mad Thailand. Manchester City recently signed up three young Thai players - unlikely drafts for a professional league team, but fascinating for Thai voters.

Vote buying is traditionally rampant in Thai elections where rural voters are more impressed by hard cash than superficial ideologies. The Election Commission has toughened up the rules so much this time that even giving away T-shirts and soft drinks can be censored.

Sayan refused to disclose who might be giving out the sex drug because he said it was difficult to prove. The wildly popular drug is supposed to be used only on doctor's advice but can be bought over the counter in Thailand. However, it is too expensive for most Thais. (dpa)

'Virtual offices' among offerings as CEO Suite debuts in Thailand


The serviced office operator CEO Suite Co is optimistic about the business potential in Thailand with the launch of its first centre, in Athe'nee Tower, aiming to bring international office standards to Thai and foreign clients.

CEO Suite occupies the 23rd floor of the new building on Wireless Road with more than 2,000 square metres for 60 executive suites of different sizes. Shared facilities include conference facilities, meeting rooms and other services needed for a company to establish a business in Thailand, such as legal services, market research and accounting.
The company's minimum package for office space costs about US$1,000 per month, aimed mainly at multinational corporations.
It also has a ''virtual office'' package staring at US$50 a month targeting Thai clients who can use the centre's services for five hours a week, according to president Mee Kim.

Proton unveils car models in Thailand

KUALA LUMPUR: Proton Holdings Bhd added Thailand to its expanding list of export markets with the launch of its models at the 24th Thailand International Motor Expo 2007 in Bangkok yesterday.

The national carmaker unveiled Savvy, Neo and the new GEN.2 powered by the enhanced Campro CPS engine during the event. It has appointed Phranakorn Auto Sales Co Ltd, which has 50 years' experience in the Thai automobile market, its sole distributor in Thailand, it said in a statement.Phranakorn Auto plans to open at least 20 distribution outlets within the next 12 months. – Bernama

Life in Thailand

Neil Stoneham says that Thailand is a diverse and fascinating country offering everything from historical culture to relaxing and thrilling leisure pursuits. Outstanding for the laid-back attitude and friendliness of its people, the kingdom is well worth a visit.

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Introduction to Thailand
Visiting Thailand

Getting around
Housing
Jobs
Study
Leisure
Healthcare

Ask questions and read the answers on the Mentor Noticeboard.

Our mentors are volunteers and any information they provide is for information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Click here to access the message boards terms and conditions.

Neil Stoneham, is a 35 year-old British journalist currently living in Bangkok, Thailand. He has been here since arriving as an international school teacher in 1999, changing career when an opportunity arose to work for the Bangkok Post at the beginning of 2004.

Neil writes mainly educational features for the learning post supplement of the newspaper but also writes freelance pieces for other publications. In addition to his full-time occupation, Neil hopes to one day finish a radio drama script or maybe even get over the 10,000-word threshold of his elusive first novel.

Neil will be happy to answer any queries you may have about visiting or living in Thailand. He has a particularly good knowledge of the international education scene, although is unable to recommend specific schools for your child.

Introduction to Thailand: Although Thailand’s unofficial moniker as the “Land of Smiles” has become something of a cliché, it is no less true because of it. Smiling is a Thai specialty, as is cooking some of the tastiest food on the planet and a warm welcome wherever you go.

Renowned for its tolerant and ancient peace-loving culture, Thailand has become a Mecca for people from all walks of life. Whether you’re looking for an idyllic beach, historical monuments or an extremely diverse nightlife, then Thailand has something to offer.

Living here can be an exhilarating mixture of pleasantness and frustration. If the fumes and chaos of Bangkok become a little too much, for example, you’re only a short ride away from tropical paradise and inexpensive resorts. It’s also well situated for visiting the rest of Asia and Australia is only four hours away by plane.

More and more Thais are learning to speak good English, so communication should be fairly easy, especially in the tourist areas of Bangkok, Chiang Mai (Thailand’s second largest city) and beachside resorts.

Thailand has a constitutional monarchy (the current King is the longest serving monarch in the world) and has a proud history of never having been colonized. Royalty is revered absolutely and it is never appropriate to speak negatively about them, even in close company.


Buddhist Monks walk out of a temple in Bangkok

It is also worth noting that the tsunami-hit areas around Phuket are recovering much quicker than their counterparts in other countries because of the more advanced infrastructure. So be sure to make Phuket an option if you are planning a holiday here.

Visiting Thailand: The high season from October to March is the most pleasant in terms of weather. Temperatures are bearable and can even be quite pleasant around Christmas time. Note, however, that this is also the most expensive period for resorts and hotels.

April is best avoided as the temperatures can reach into the 40’s and, no matter how used to it you are, it still feels unbearable.

The rains come in June and temperatures settle down again. Visit from this time until September if you like a good bargain and don’t mind the odd shower.

Most of Thailand is safe. However, there is a lot of unrest from separatists in the southernmost tip of the country, particularly in the provinces of Yala, Narrathiwat and Pattani, so they are best avoided.

Getting around: Bangkok is notorious for its traffic jams and this would seem a fair assessment. Having said that, it is often no worse than in many other major cities, and you can learn to navigate your way round much more efficiently after you have been here a while. There are plenty of ways to get around Bangkok and whichever mode you choose will largely depend on how adventurous you are.

The safest and most efficient way of getting around is by the Sky Train which snakes above the city in most major areas, including the business districts. Then there is the relatively new underground Metro which complements the sky train routes and, again, serves important areas. Nonetheless, at present, the service is fairly limited to central Bangkok but work is ongoing and by the end of the decade, the public transport system should be on a par with any modern city.

Next up, Bangkok is served by a very cheap taxi service. The taxis are mostly quite new and air-conditioned, as well as being in plentiful supply – you’ll never really have to wait more than a minute or two before flagging one down. However, this means they also clog up the rounds, thus compounding the traffic jam situation.

The skytrain in Bangkok

Taxi fares are charged by the meter and anyone who offers to take you somewhere for a price should be refused as the chances are they will be ripping you off. A sizeable minority of taxi drivers, it has to be said, also like to throw in a few fairground-like thrills into the bargain while they are driving you to your destination! It is, nonetheless, a service most favoured by expats and seems to work fairly well.

If you’re adventurous, you might like to try the famous samlor or ‘tuk-tuk’ as they are better known. These three wheeled fume-belching open-air taxis are a fun and cheap way to explore the city. Fares are negotiated in advance with the driver. Also, for the even more adventurous, motor-cycle taxis can speedily wind their way among the traffic if you’re in a hurry.

If you are looking to travel around Thailand, the train network is certainly a cheap and comfortable, if very slow, option. Most destinations are served from Hua Lompong station in Bangkok and sleeper carriages are available on long overnight journeys. The road network is also an option if you want to hire a car. Road quality is usually fairly good with the majority of signposts written in English as well as Thai.

A modern air-transport system serves Thailand as well as other international destinations. New, low cost airlines are bringing fares down to both domestic and Asian cities. Thai Airways International (THAI) is the national carrier and very good it is too. In anticipation of the new Bangkok International Airport (to be opened sometime in 2006), THAI are going through something of a revamp, so the service should eventually be top notch.

Housing: Most expatriates live in condominiums or rented houses. These are in plentiful supply in most major Thai cities and there is a good range available.

Depending on your budget, it is possible to live in anything from a modest one bedroom apartment, to a grand 200 sq metre condo overlooking the city. Most condos come with a swimming pool and gym facilities. Rental prices are usually about half to two-thirds of the price you would pay for the same thing in the UK.

By law, foreigners are not allowed to own land in Thailand. You can, however, purchase apartments above the ground floor and these can be fairly inexpensive, although – thanks to the booming economy – prices are going up fast.

In addition, the laws for purchasing apartments mean that, unless you have a good stock of money back home (where a third or more of the money has to come from), getting a loan from a Thai bank is quite difficult.

Some foreigners opt to get round the law by purchasing property through a Thai partner or friend, although, in certain circumstances, this might not be a good idea.

Jobs: Thailand is a popular country for expatriate workers. The perks and standard of living here makes it an attractive proposition, which means it can be fairly competitive. A large number of expatriates have been sent here by their companies back home but there are a sizeable number of them who got jobs while visiting Thailand.

By far the most feasible option for foreigners is to work as an English teacher. Acquiring some formal qualification, such as TEFL certificate, will virtually guarantee you work here. There is a reason for this, however. The salary for most English teachers is very small and you will be lucky to earn anything more than 30,000 baht (₤450) a month. That’s enough to get by but don’t expect to be able to afford any luxuries.

A Thai man places durians onto a pile at a fruit market

Try www.ajarn.com to get the bigger picture. You will require a work permit and special visa (which must be obtained outside the country) to work in Thailand. These require a huge amount of bureaucracy and, unless you have a job sorted out already, it is pointless trying to obtain one.

Working illegally is not advised unless you don’t mind risking a spell in the Bangkok Hilton (and I don’t mean the hotel). Try these English language newspapers for the latest vacancies – www.bangkokpost.com or www.nationmultimedia.com.

Study: Thailand probably has the most diverse and varied international education scene in the world. There are some excellent schools here, although they are not cheap. However, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a school which fits your budget and location requirements. www.isat.or.th is a useful resource as is the Bangkok Post’s education section www.bangkokpost.com/education.

The local government education system is going through a period of radical change and, although there are many success stories, there are few Thai schools that would come close to international schools in terms of suitability for expatriate children.

Universities mostly cater for the local population although a few of the bigger universities offer courses in English. My general impression is that they are not quite up to the standards of good British or American institutions but are certainly an option for students who want to study abroad.

Leisure: There are so many ways of spending your leisure time in Thailand, it is impossible to mention even half of them here. As a general guide, however, read on.

Restaurants serving local and international cuisine from all corners of the planet can be found in our capital. And Bangkok certainly has the best nightlife, ranging from the modern hip dance clubs on Royal City Avenue to the famed dens of iniquity on Soi Nana or Soi Cowboy. Whatever rocks your boat, Thailand can certainly rock it!

If you want something more tranquil, visit the islands of Ko Samui, Ko Samet, Phuket or the land resort of Hua Hin. Jungle and countryside can be found in the beautiful Kao Yai national park (just a couple of hours drive from Bangkok) or the high mountains of the north around Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai.

If you want history, a must is a visit to Kanchanaburi – home to the fascinating “Death Railway” and the fabled Bridge Over the River Kwai.

Thailand welcomes people of all nationalities, religions and cultures as well as those from the LGBT community.

Health care: Good health care is readily available in Thailand. Bumrungrad hospital in Bangkok provides world class private health care and there are many smaller international hospitals around areas populated by tourists.

It’s a good idea to take out health insurance if not provided by your company or if you are visiting.

Ask questions and read the answers on the Mentor Noticeboard.

Tensions build over the future of Thailand domestic Don Mueang Airport

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Members of the Thai Airways International union have voiced their opposition to plans outlined by Airports of Thailand (AOT) to make the current domestic Don Mueang Airport international. The union, which represents more than half the airline's 26,000 employees, has so far threatened to pursue industrial action if AOT goes ahead with plans.

Aviation industry representatives are in support of the union, arguing that if the airport was to be made international, airlines would have to spend more to operate at both Suvarnabhumi Airport and Don Mueang. Many airlines have also voiced concerns over moving from Suvarnabhumi.

Having once been an international airport, AOT has been pushing for Don Mueang to once again take international flights because Suvarnabhumi Airport has been projected to reach capacity in 2008.

Orient Thai Airlines chief executive, Udom Tantiprasongchai, has said that the government should instead find other alternatives to the capacity issue rather than moving back and forth from each airport.

"It will destroy the whole industry," said Tantiprasongchai.

A third runway and additional terminal has been proposed for Suvarnabhumi, approximately boosting annual capacity to from 45million to 60 million passengers. However, should the extensions go ahead, they would not be completed until 2013, and the renovations would end up costing Bt67 billion and the AOT has an annual cash flow of Bt14 billion.

AOT senior official, Kalaya Phakakrong, has also argued that having Don Mueang operate international flights would allow for more low-cost airlines, increasing Don Mueang passengers from seven million to 10 million a year.

AOT will make its final decision on Don Mueang's status in the next two weeks.

WTO tells Thailand they must privatize

Geneva - The World Trade Organisation told Thailand on Monday that investors have lost confidence. It must rebuild competitiveness with structural reforms, especially by getting on with poltically touchy privatisation of state firms.

"By and large, Thailand's economic fundamentals remain good," the WTO said in a special report, with annual growth of 5.7 per cent since the 1997 recession, led by exports and strong domestic consumption.

But now, "a confluence of factors, including increasingly constrained production capacity, has led to a recent slowdown in real GDP growth."

"A key challenge for Thailand's future economic performance is the government's ability to restore private investor confidence and to proceed with pending structural reforms, including stalled privatisations, that would help improve the country's competitiveness," it said.

The WTO promised a final, fuller and frank policy statement on the country by Wednesday evening Thailand time.

Among the recommendations made on Monday, the world organisation called for more openness in trade.

Thailand must "expand its tariff bindings and simplify its relatively complex tariff regime," it said. "The services sector... has benefitted so far from liberalisation but would grow further if multilateral commitments under the GATS were expanded."

The first part of the WTO report is available at the WTO website, (http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp291_e.htm) Click to follow link

Thai Malaysian Border is impossible to control

Everyday two thousand people pass through this border at Sungei Golok. It is one of the most important crossing points between Thailand and Malaysia and one of Malaysia's most prolific smuggling routes for guns, drugs and humans as Tony Birtley reports

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thailand's growth expected to hit 5% next year on strong exports

WICHIT CHANTANUSORNSIRI

Economic growth should reach 4.5% this year and accelerate to 5% in 2008, according to a new forecast by the Finance Ministry.

The latest forecast is an increase from the 4% forecast for 2007 made in August. But inflation is now projected to jump to 4% in 2008 from 2.2% this year, due largely to the rise in global oil prices.

Pannee Stawarodom, the director-general of the Fiscal Policy Office, said the economy this year would be driven by strong exports and accelerated fiscal spending. Growth in 2008 was projected to increase from this year thanks to a recovery in domestic consumption and continued expansion in exports, she said.

The new inflation forecast, however, raises the chance that the central bank's Monetary Policy Committee would keep interest rates unchanged at its next meeting on Dec 4. The MPC in October kept its one-day repurchase rate unchanged at 3.25%, citing a slight increase in the risk of greater inflation.

Mrs Pannee said the Finance Ministry's economic projections were based on a 2008 oil price forecast of $83 per barrel for Dubai crude, compared with an average price of $67.80 per barrel this year.

One-month futures contracts for Dubai oil in Singapore have been quoted this week at $90-91 per barrel, as global supplies remain tight.

''Domestic economic stability faces the risk of rising inflation,'' Mrs Pannee said.

While the new 2007 growth estimate of 4.5% is higher than earlier forecasts, growth still remains below the 5% rate posted in 2006, due to sluggish investment and domestic consumption. Investment this year is projected to rise 1.5% from last year, with consumption expanding by a modest 0.2%.

Exports are projected to expand 6.4% in volume terms this year, compared with a 3.5% increase in imports. Government spending this year is also 9.2% higher than last year, with state investment up 2.9% year-on-year. The current account, meanwhile, is projected to post a surplus of 5% of GDP for 2007, thanks primarily to record-high exports.

For 2008, private investment is projected to increase 5.3% from this year, with domestic demand forecast to grow 2.5%. Public consumption, however, is expected to fall 4.5% in 2008 from this year, although public investment is likely to grow 4.5%.Export growth is projected to moderate in 2008 from this year, although the current account is forecast to remain in surplus at 3.3% of GDP.

In any case, Kanit Sangsubhan, the director of the FPO's Policy Research Institute, played down fears of rising interest rates due to inflationary pressures. A supply shock from high oil prices was driving inflation, not greater demand, he said.

Meanwhile, Mrs Pannee said the Finance Ministry was revising its fiscal policy projections for the next several years. The current five-year framework, set in 2004, calls for public debt to be maintained at no more than 50% of gross domestic product.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Thailand's counterfeit pipeline

Porous borders, government inaction allow bogus goods to travel the world

Monday, November 26, 2007; Posted: 03:20 PM

ARANYAPRATHET, Thailand, Nov 26, 2007 (The Columbus Dispatch - If not for the deep-fried scorpions on the dusty food court's menu, you might think you were at Easton Town Center.

The sprawling, open-air Rong Kluea market has all of the familiar clothing brands found at any top-flight U.S. mall: Abercrombie & Fitch, Aeropostale, American Eagle, Gap, Hollister, J.Crew, Justice, Victoria's Secret Pink and more.

But take a good look, because what you see is rarely what you get in this backwater bazaar along Thailand's border with Cambodia.

Over there, twisting on a hanger in a shop with folding tables on a dirt floor, is a green Abercrombie hoodie. From a distance, it's unremarkable. But up close, it's clear the garment has no sewn-in labels and is finished with a Puma-brand zipper.

"In this whole market, there's nothing legal," says a woman hawking rack upon rack of questionable Abercrombie & Fitch merchandise. As if to prove the point, she's wearing a baggy Gap T-shirt, an obvious no-no for a real Abercrombie salesperson.

To lend an air of authenticity to her wares, she keeps a loose-leaf binder with color images printed from the Abercrombie Web site. They look good. Through an interpreter, she says her merchandise is the real thing, stolen from authorized Abercrombie factories in Cambodia.

She could be telling the truth, but none of these customers -- a combination of Asians and Western tourists -- seems to know, or care.

What's undeniable is that Thailand is awash in counterfeit goods, the production and sale of which cost legitimate companies $600 billion a year in lost sales.

Experts consider Thailand, a country of 65 million, to be the primary staging point for counterfeit goods produced in China, where up to 90 percent of the world's knockoffs are made. Organized gangs with financial ties to Hong Kong and Taiwan are behind much of Asia's trade in fakes.

Before communist China opened its borders to extensive trade with the outside world, Thailand was a regional center in the production of counterfeit goods, especially clothing. But counterfeiters are subject to the same market forces that draw legitimate manufacturers to China -- low wages, a huge work force and undervalued currency.

With a central location and modern ports and airports, Thailand remains an ideal transit hub for black-market goods. It also helps that Thailand shares borders with countries that don't place a premium on intellectual property rights: Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Myanmar, formerly Burma.

Observers said that officials in Thailand's military-led government are looking the other way.

"Stopping counterfeiting is a difficult proposition in any case, but adding in corruption makes some producers virtually untouchable," said a Western diplomatic source in Thailand who asked not to be named for fear of political retribution.

Rong Kluea and similar markets in the capital, Bangkok, cater to tourists and middlemen from Europe, Asia, North America and elsewhere. What's not purchased in Thailand is shipped to distributors in third countries or sold piecemeal to consumers over the Internet.

Abercrombie & Fitch, which has no stores in Asia and only one in Europe, is blatantly knocked off here. The New Albany company, whose brands include Hollister and Ruehl, says eight of the top 10 resellers of its goods on eBay are likely based in Thailand, peddling fakes made in China.

Thailand's central role in the fakes trade earned it a place of dishonor on the U.S. government's 2007 survey of intellectual property-rights violators worldwide. After 14 years off the list, Thailand was labeled one of the world's worst offenders last spring, joining perennial pirates China and Russia, and nine other nations.

"We agree that we have a problem with intellectual property; if you walk the streets, you can see it," said Woranuj Maneerungsee, a reporter with the Bangkok Post. Her newspaper editorialized last spring that Thailand deserved its ranking and needed to clean up the counterfeit markets.

In Thailand's huge open-air markets, knockoffs aren't even being swept under the rug, let alone cleaned up.

Rong Kluea rivals a state fair in scale, with hundreds of vendors in semi-permanent stalls hawking clothes and household goods. Farm animals and wooden pushcarts add ambience and serve as the primary means for moving illicit goods in and out.

There's little pretense or effort to create the illusion of legitimacy. In one vendor's pushcart, phony Rolex and Omega watches compete for space with dried mushrooms and Thai spices.

Ever wonder where a knockoff Burberry purse might come from? Quite possibly this market, in stalls with tarps for walls, where children eat lunch off mats on the ground while women sew copies of the designer brand's distinctive plaid fabric onto generic Chinese-made bags.

Prices are less than a fourth of what legitimate designer goods would cost in the States. Tour buses from all over Thailand and Cambodia -- adorned with unlicensed Disney characters Mickey, Donald and Piglet -- ply the dusty parking lots on both sides of the border, unloading eager bargain hunters.

There's no sign of Jiminy Cricket. He could be among the bucketfuls of insects and small reptiles destined for the food court's deep fryer.

Dangerous products

Counterfeiting does more than rob companies of sales and support organized crime, child labor and terrorism.

Knockoffs also can damage brand images and hurt consumers.

Fakes sold as real products frequently are made from outdated, dangerous, leftover or stolen components that convey just enough legitimacy to fool unwary -- or indifferent -- consumers.

And while it's one thing for a pair of fake Nike shoes to fall apart prematurely, the stakes are much higher when products can harm consumers.

"It's a real problem when you're talking about safety," said Robert Crane, lead enforcement specialist of anti-counterfeiting operations for Underwriters Laboratories Inc. in Chapel Hill, N.C.

"You can be electrocuted or your house can burn down," he said. "You can die."

Underwriters Laboratories, a nonprofit testing service known by its UL mark on a variety of electrical products, maintains a force of 1,800 inspectors who do nothing but monitor factories around the world.

Their weapon of choice is a high-tech tag, and all Chinese-made lighting products sold in the United States, including extension cords and holiday light strands, must have one affixed to the product itself.

The tags are made in one secure U.S. location, display a hologram and have other internal security features, said Brian Monks, UL's vice president of anti-counterfeiting operations.

Even so, counterfeiters slap phony UL labels on electrical products made with insufficient amounts of copper. Fake circuit breakers look like the real thing but may not trip when overloaded. All of these products can and have burst into flames, Crane said.

While consumers may not be able to tell a real label or product from a fake, he said, be wary of:

--Any product that mentions UL on the carton or product but gives no company name or address.

--Any product with UL on the packaging but not the product itself.

--Shoddy workmanship or cheap packaging.

--Any electrical product significantly marked down and sold by street vendors or at flea markets and deep discount stores.

Counterfeiters also knock off millions of batteries in China for export around the world, said Donna Frazier Schmitt, senior trademark counsel for Energizer, based in St. Louis.

They frequently contain high levels of mercury, and many don't have the built-in ventilation that keeps branded batteries from overheating or exploding, she said.

The logo on Energizer's popular Eveready brand is a black cat jumping through a 9. The company has been fighting a Chinese imitator using the Everpower name. Its batteries feature a skinny black jaguar jumping through an 8.

A busy consumer might not notice the difference.

Most Everpowers are sold in Asia and the Middle East, but some reach the United States every year.

"It can be really hard to tell a real from a fake, but we pursue counterfeits wherever we find them," Frazier Schmitt said. "Consumers can be disappointed with counterfeits, and that translates to disappointment with our brand."

Wild West of fakes

Rusty Lerner is one of Southeast Asia's top private eyes and an expert on counterfeiting. The former Houston resident, who has an Asian studies degree from Yale, has lived in Bangkok for 18 years. Today, he runs Quantico Ltd., one of the largest private investigation shops in the region.

With 35 employees, his business is booming.

"China has taken over most of the manufacturing (of legitimate and illicit goods) because the labor there is just so cheap," he said.

While Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar have plenty of factories, those countries increasingly serve as conduits for Chinese-made goods pouring into Thailand.

Ray Tai, a Hong Kong-based lawyer responsible for policing adidas brands in Asia, can attest to the recent change. "They all have their counterfeit goods, but in the past couple of years, the Chinese counterfeiting machine has basically wiped them off the map."

Lax border controls and little or no enforcement of intellectual property rights by Thailand's neighbors ensure a steady supply of goods. Lerner says dozens of rural villages make their living from the counterfeit trade.

Quantico advises companies with factories in the region on "supply-chain management." It involves knowing who makes your product, their suppliers and anyone involved in distribution. Mattel's recent problems with lead paint on Chinese-made toys underscored the need for strict controls of supply chains.

In addition to apparel, Quantico tracks fake food products, cell phones, printer components and auto parts.

Criminals throughout Asia fool consumers by filling used ink cartridges with generic ink and putting them in Hewlett-Packard boxes.

"The profit margin on ink cartridges is better than heroin," Lerner said.

And they're a safer bet for criminals. Counterfeiters in Thailand, China and other parts of Asia rarely get jail time.

"The penalty is often death for narcotics, whereas if you're a counterfeiter, people say, 'OK, you're just a businessman,' " said Daniel C.K. Chow, an Ohio State University law professor and a counterfeiting expert. The lack of enforcement is the main reason the trade flourishes as never before, he said.

In an effort to boost tourism, Thailand has liberalized visa procedures, allowing foreign nationals from 154 countries to easily enter the country without a visa or to obtain one on arrival.

People certainly come and go with ease along the Thai-Cambodian border, and they know how to work the system.

"It's like a flow of ants," Lerner says. "People cross the border all day with two fake cell phones at a time. Two phones are considered personal use."

For those who want to minimize trips, it's not hard to slip through holes in the border fence. Conveniently, border guards patrol the area just twice a day.

"People know when that is," he said, "and they just go back and forth."

Lerner can make the drive from his office in Bangkok to the Rong Kluea market in just over three hours. On one recent visit, he was flagged down for speeding and solicited for a bribe by the police officer. Lerner declined to pay. After some back and forth, he was allowed to proceed without a ticket.

"He didn't want to do the paperwork," Lerner said.

That attitude is typical of what Western companies face in the fight to protect intellectual property in a country where law enforcement can be sporadic and arbitrary.

"We don't expect piracy to be wiped out overnight; however, we would like the Thai government to have a plan for how to better protect intellectual property and make a greater effort to enforce their laws," the Western diplomatic official said.

On the return trip from Rong Kluea to Bangkok, Lerner pulled off the highway to see what two smiling boys were cooking up in their pushcart: grilled field rat.

"It tastes better than chicken," one said. Lerner politely passed.

Not far from the boys, in the middle of rice paddies and forests in Thailand, he happened upon a little restaurant in the courtyard of a private home. On the other side of a dirt road, two oxen lounged in a bog.

A waitress approached, wearing a Louis Vuitton fanny pack. Either tips are quite good in this remote outpost, or it's a fake.

jsheban@dispatch.com

jhinckley@dispatch.com

Abercrombie & Fitch, which has no stores in Asia and only one in Europe, is blatantly knocked off in Asia. The New Albany company, whose brands include Hollister and Ruehl, says eight of the top 10 resellers of its goods on eBay are likely based in Thailand, peddling fakes made in China.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Massive flood wall for Bangkok?

APINYA WIPATAYOTIN

Alarmed by the prospect of global warming triggering a rise in sea levels, disaster prevention experts and a local political group called for the construction of a 100-billion-baht flood prevention wall to save the capital from being inundated.

The call was made at a seminar on climate change and its impact on Bangkok held yesterday by the Bangkok 50 group, a political clan run by members of the now-defunct Thai Rak Thai party (TRT).

Chalitrat Chandrubeksa, the group's acting leader, said it would launch a signature campaign to get 50,000 names to push for the project. It would also try to convince the next government to give the go-ahead to the project.

Mr Chalitrat, a former TRT member, said the next government should not delay the decision as it would take up to eight years to build the city flood wall.

The proposed wall, he said, would cost about 100 billion baht, but it would be worth it to save the city.

He cited climate change experts' forecasts that the sea level will rise from 1.5 metres to two metres in the next decade, which would pose a serious threat to the city.

Smith Dharmasaroja, chairman of the National Disaster Warning Centre, supported the idea.

He said Bangkok was at risk of being submerged by sea water because of rising sea levels and the problem of land subsidence.

Mr Smith cited a study by the Military Mapping Office which found the city's land subsides about 5-8 centimetres every year.

The land subsidence situation was getting worse, he said, adding that in one area the land had subsided almost one metre.

He urged the next government to find proper measures to save the city from inundation, including the flood wall project.

Seree Supratid, the director of Rangsit University's natural disaster research centre, said the proposed flood prevention wall should stand at three metres higher than the moderate sea level. According to an initial design, the structure will be 80 kilometres long, starting from the mouth of the Ta Chin river to the Bang Pakong river.

It will cover three provinces _ Samut Sakhon, Chachoengsao and Bangkok _ he said.

The wall should be erected 300 metres offshore so there will be space for mangrove forest, which is a powerful natural barrier to prevent soil erosion.

The academic noted that similar flood walls had already been built in flood-prone Netherlands and Singapore.

The project could not only save the city from rising sea levels, but also slow down coastal erosion, said Mr Seree.

Bangkok slowly sinking has become a major concern for city residents after various forecasts by international academics and climate change experts about rising sea levels associated with climate change and the growing threat of global warming.

Some reports say Bangkok will be permanently and completely under water, while others argue that the situation will not be as bad, although the city's floods will be longer and cover larger areas than before.

However, according to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, cities located along the Chao Phraya river including Bangkok will be ''slightly damaged'' from rising sea levels.

Thai fiscal official: U.S. economic slowdown won't adversely affect Thailand 

BANGKOK, Nov. 22 (Xinhua) -- The economic slowdown in the United States will not adversely affect Thailand as Thai exporters had adjusted themselves by shifting to emerging markets in the region, such as China and Southeast Asia, according to Thailand's Fiscal Policy Office (FPO).

Ekniti Nitithanprapas, director of FPO's Macro-Economic Analysis Division, said the U.S. Federal Reserve's move to revise its economic growth estimate downward next year to 1.8-2.5 percent from 2.5-2.75 percent lived up to the FPO's earlier expectation, Thai News Agency reported Thursday.

Ekniti said the United States had been overspending in the long term until the country's current accounts are in huge deficit.

He said the U.S. economic slowdown would have repercussions in the countries of every region, particularly those which export mainly to the U.S. market.

For Thailand, he said, exporters had shifted to expand exports to emerging markets and regional ones including China and the countries in Southeast Asia.

The shifting to new export destinations has made the portion of exports to the U.S. market reduces to only 12.9 percent of total exports from 30 percent three years ago.

However, Ekniti said, the FPO would take the impact of the U.S. economic slowdown into account for a revision of its economic growth estimate on Nov. 27 before releasing an official gross domestic product (GDP) figure.

Thailand's exports in October hit a historical record high of more than 14.5 billion U.S dollars, up 26.7 percent from the same period last year, pushing export growth during the first ten months to 17.2 percent, according to the Department of Export Promotion (DEP).

Asked to comment on the export surge in October, Ekniti said that FPO was studying details, but assumed initially that it was mainly attributed by the shifting of export markets.

Thailand’s Large Automotive and Industrial Production Base Propelling the Nation’s Welding Equipment and Consumables Market

SINGAPORE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Thai welding market is growing at a healthy rate with significant contribution from the industrial manufacturing and automotive sectors. The automotive industry is the single largest end user of welding equipment, and the growth in this industry in Thailand will have a significant impact on welding consumption.

New analysis from Frost & Sullivan (http://www.industrialautomation.frost.com), Thailand Markets for Welding Equipment and Consumables, finds that market earned revenues of 238.1 million in 2006 and estimates this to reach 450.1 million in 2013.

As part of Thailands recent economic development plans, the construction sector had also witnessed high growth, simultaneously increasing the demand for welding equipment.

Construction, which is the biggest end user sector in terms of revenue share in the Thai welding equipment and consumables market, accounted for around 31.5 percent in 2006, notes Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Ipshita Bhattacharya. Demand from this sector is set to increase over the forecast period, as major construction projects commence, spurred by the much anticipated Mega Projects Investment Program.

Market growth will also derive momentum from new oil discoveries at the Gulf of Thailand that will increase pipeline construction projects.

Moreover, the trend in Thailand is moving toward automation in production and this is gaining traction in the welding equipment and consumables market, especially the arc and resistance welding segments. High requirements for productivity levels will be the main driving force for the deployment of such sophisticated equipment.

Within the arc welding product segments, the metal inert gas and metal active gas (MIG/MAG) equipment sectors are likely to experience a surge in demand over the forecast period. Similarly, the growth in volume sales of arc welding equipment will increase consumption of welding consumables and likewise consumables segment is expected to grow in tandem.

However, there are several factors that restrain the progress of the market. Revenue growth can be delayed by the current political crisis and any downturn in the economy can have an adverse impact. Rising price competition amid rising raw material costs also erode supplier margins.

The number of manufacturers and suppliers has risen considerably and the industry is currently experiencing stiff competition between renowned global producers and low-cost producers, which include domestic manufacturers as well as other Asian manufacturers, particularly from China, explains Bhattacharya. There is, however, a trade-off between cost and quality, whereby end users with critical applications will tend to opt for higher priced and better quality welding products, and in contrast, end users with less critical applications opt for less expensive alternatives.

Participants can clearly overcome present challenges to improve their presence in this market, where opportunities abound. Thailands booming automotive industry holds much promise for the future as it is a highly automation-intensive user. When the industry progresses, the installed base for automated welding processes is anticipated to expand across to other industries, where productivity improvements are required.

If you are interested in a virtual brochure, which provides manufacturers, end users, and other industry participants with an overview of the Thailand Markets for Welding Equipment and Consumables, then send an e-mail to Donna Jeremiah, Corporate Communications, at djeremiah@frost.com, with your full name, company name, title, telephone number, fax number, and e-mail address. Upon receipt of the above information, an overview will be sent to you by e-mail.

Thailand Markets for Welding Equipment and Consumables is part of the Industrial Automation & Process Control Growth Partnership Service program, which also includes research in the following markets: Industrial Valves and Actuators Markets, Automation and Software Markets in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, ANZ and SE Asia, Process Instrument Markets in SE Asia, Safety Controls and Systems Markets in SE Asia. All research services included in subscriptions provide detailed market opportunities and industry trends that have been evaluated following extensive interviews with market participants. Interviews with the press are available.

Frost & Sullivan, the Growth Consulting Company, partners with clients to accelerate their growth. The company's Growth Partnership Services, Growth Consulting and Career Best Practices empower clients to create a growth-focused culture that generates, evaluates, and implements effective growth strategies. Frost & Sullivan employs over 45 years of experience in partnering with Global 1000 companies, emerging businesses and the investment community from more than 30 offices on six continents. For more information about Frost & Sullivans Growth Partnerships, visit http://www.frost.com.

NGV cars head for Thailand to explore "green highways"

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov. 23 (Xinhua) -- Four natural gas vehicles (NGV) bi-fuel cars left a service station near here on Friday for Bangkok, capital of Thailand, starting their journey to explore the southern route of "green highways" in the Asia Pacific region.

The four-vehicle convoy, which comprised two cars representing Singapore and two representing Malaysia, left the service station at Shah Alam, capital of Malaysia's Selangor State, on the journey under the Green Highways Project sponsored by the Asia Pacific Natural Gas Vehicles Association (ANGVA), the association said.

The Project was launched earlier this year by ANGVA President Abdul Rahim Hashim, vice-head of the research arm of Malaysia's state-run oil company Petronas, with aim to create integrated routes of "green highways" in the Asia Pacific region, according to ANGVA, which recently relocated its secretariat from the Republic of Korea to Malaysia.

"Under the Project, ANGVA seeks to highlight gaps in the NGV refueling infrastructure and the need for the harmonization of NGV standards ad co-operation among the national NGV associations and government(s) along the chosen routes," it said in a press release issued here.

ANGVA currently has chosen two routes for its Green Highway Project -- the Eastern Route and Southern Route.

The Eastern Route covers the journey from Chuncheon, the Republic of Korea, to Bangkok, via China, Vietnam and Laos, while the Southern route covers the journey from Singapore to Bangkok, via Malaysia.

The teams from both routes are scheduled to reach Bangkok on Nov. 26, where the NGV vehicles would be displayed at ANGVA's Second International Conference and Exhibition (ANGVA 2007) there.

The Eastern Route Team, comprising three bi-fuel NGV vehicles, started their journey from Chuncheon on Oct. 23 this year and it was currently in Vietnam on their way to Bangkok.

Report: Thailand fuel prices hit record

Thailand's oil and gas conglomerate PTT PCL raised its retail gasoline, diesel and biofuel prices just over 1 percent to record levels amid soaring global crude oil prices, according to a media report Friday.

Prices at the pump were raised a uniform 40 santang (1.3 cents) per liter, according to the Bangkok Post. That amounts to 1.2-1.4 percent for fuel grades from 5 percent biodiesel to premium gasoline.

PTT dominates the Thailand's retail fuel sales with a 34 percent share of the market, and most retail operators follow PTT pricing.

The company blamed the increase on the sharp rise in global oil prices, the Post said. Crude oil futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange hit a record US$99.29 a barrel earlier this week and were trading above $97 a barrel Friday.

Premium gasoline is now at 32.89 Thai baht ($1.06) a liter; regular is at 31.59 baht ($1.01) a liter; high speed diesel is at 29.34 baht (94 cents) a liter; and 5 percent biodiesel is at 28.34 baht (91 cents) a liter.

Other companies operating retail fuel stations in the country -- including Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Chevron Corp. and Malaysia's Petroliam Nasional Bhd. -- have set their pump prices Friday at the same level as PTT, according to the Web site of the Energy Policy and Planning Office of Thailand's Ministry of Energy.

New plant to boost Siam Motors exports

Siam Motors Group is investing Bt400 million in Siam NSK Steering Systems to build a second plant in Chachoengsao to produce steering racks for passenger cars and trucks.

Published on November 24, 2007

President Dr Phornthep Phornprapha said that Siam NSK, one of 67 companies under the group's wing, will serve as a production base for NSK globally, with production to be raised from 80,000 sets per month to 120,000.

Phornthep said that after the completion of the new plant in nine months, NSK's total exports to the US, Europe, China and India would account for 50 per cent of total sales, from the current 30 per cent.

Phornthep said the Thai business sector should be ready to adapt to fluctuations in the foreign exchange rate, and an economic slowdown in 2008, instead of depending on the government for help. He also said that the economic scenario was not guaranteed to improve next year despite the upcoming general elections.

"First we need to see the faces in the new government as well as the stability of the government. Hence, the business sector should focus more on improving the management in their own organisations as well as look for suitable outsourcing from low-cost investment areas to lower the risks in doing business," he said. He cited the fluctuating value of the baht, competition from low-priced products, and increasing oil prices

as future negative factors.

Phornthep said Siam Motors Group is a good example of how local companies should adapt. After two years of losses, certain companies within the group are becoming profitable again.

Among them are Daikin air-conditioners, Hitachi elevators, Komatsu trucks, which has boosted the Group's income with a 60-per-cent growth thanks to a surge in exports, GS battery with a 10 per cent increase in production, and the recently renovated Siam Country Club.

"Even sales of Nissan cars have become profitable this year due to the introduction of new models," he sad.

Phornthep added that the Thai economy is entering a period when it would face the reality, whereas in 2006 the economic and consumption growth was a result of market stimulation.

"Now, one year after the coup everyone has learned how to consume wisely and the government is teaching the people about sufficiency economy," he said. "The scenario will remain the same next year. Personally, I think that although domestic consumption will decrease, this is a good immunity for the country and a long-term realistic economy."

Phornthep opined that many businesses had to shut down due to management failure, while businesses that sought help from the government were those that saw their profits sliding.

"When the exchange rate was Bt25 to the US dollar, we were profitable, and when it became Bt50 to the dollar, we were profitable. So now, when the rate is Bt32-33 to the dollar, why can't we still be profitable?" he posed.

Phornthep said Thai businesses needed to adapt in terms of labour. "We need to bring in more automation and raise logistics to a new level while sunset industries need to be moved to neighbouring countries like Laos and Cambodia where labour is cheap."

He said that the Thai industrial sector has entered a third phase in its evolution. "Initially we were just hired to assemble but then we grew into producers and now exporters. We are a part of the globalisation process so it is important to adapt to changes with the right management systems," he said.

Phornthep said that after talking to Japanese investors he found out that they understand the nature of Thai politics and localisation of investment will continue in 2008. He cited the fact that in the automobile industry, all major producers have chosen Thailand as their production base.

"The domestic and export markets are highly competitive and this will spur the development of new models with higher technology on a continuous basis. What will follow is the investment by automotive parts manufacturers in which additional machinery and high technology will be brought in. More investments will then follow," he said.

The Nation