Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Thai government sets aside cheap rice for public

Govt setting aside cheaper rice for public

One million tonnes to be sold at cost price

PHUSADEE ARUNMAS



MugCap1Mingkwan: `Aimed at low-income earners'
The government will set aside a portion of the state's 2.1-million-tonne rice stockpile to sell at cost price to help ease the burden placed on consumers caused by soaring rice prices. Commerce Minister Mingkwan Sangsuwan said about 10% of domestic rice consumption, which currently stands at 9-10 million tonnes a year, would be sold in five-kilogramme packs.

They would be available next month and priced at cost. The project will be handled by the state-owned Public Warehouse Organisation, the Internal Trade Department and provincial commerce offices across the country with the focus mainly on low-income earners.

Mr Mingkwan, who is also deputy prime minister, said the government saw no need to rush into auctioning rice from the government stockpile.

The rice stockpile stands at 2.109 million tonnes. The rice stock in the government's central storehouses totaling 1.964 million tonnes was reported intact, but of the remaining 145,000 tonnes which was placed with milled rice, about 13,000 tonnes was found to be missing, as rice mill owners had taken it to sell at higher prices.

The minister pledged to take action against smugglers and ban them from participating in any future rice projects.

To make the most of high rice prices overseas, the ministry also wants to sell the second crop of about six million tonnes of paddy, or about 4.2 million tonnes of white rice, for export.

International rice prices have risen recently due to inadequate supplies to meet global demand. Drought in Indonesia and the Philippines coupled with crop diseases in Vietnam and delayed exports from India have pushed prices up, with import demands from China growing annually.

''Rice prices have hit a 100-year high, which is good for Thai farmers,'' he said. ''But to protect local consumers from high prices, the ministry will allocate some of its stockpile to sell to the market at an affordable price.''

The minister urged farmers not to rush into selling, as the rice price is expected to rise further.

The government is also preparing additional measures to cut production costs including steps to curb fertiliser hoarding by manufacturers.

Paddy rice yesterday fetched 11,800 to 12,000 baht per tonne, up from 6,450 baht a tonne in the same month of last year, according to the Internal Trade Department.

Director-general of the Internal Trade Department Yanyong Phuangrach said the packed rice plan was unlikely to affect local rice packers, as the government has about 2.1 million tonnes in its stockpile, and the private sector has rice stocks on hand of another 2.1 million tonnes.

Thailand is projected to export 8.75 million tonnes of rice this year.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Thai rice could cost as much as $1,000 a tonne

Rice, the world’s most abundant food, has gained 90% in the past year on the Chicago Board of Trade
By Rattaphol Onsanit/ Bloomberg
Bangkok: Thailand, the world’s biggest rice exporter, may sell its top-grade grain at a record $1,000 (Rs40,300) a tonne by the end of June as local exporters expect Iran and Nigeria to buy the commodity with revenue from rising oil prices.
“Some big buyers have been waiting for the prices to ease,” Chookiat Ophaswongse, president of Thailand’s Rice Exporters Association, said in a telephone interview from Vancouver, Canada.
“But that didn’t happen. So they will have to buy at higher prices.”
Rice, the world’s most abundant food, has gained 90% in the past year on the Chicago Board of Trade. Still, soaring prices raised concerns over food security in emerging markets, and Robert Zeigler, director general of Manila-based International Rice Research Institute, said last week that higher costs may spark“civil unrest”.
India, the world’s second biggest rice producer, increased the minimum price for overseas shipments of the grain and restricted export outlets to boost local supplies and curb inflation, the government said on 7 March.
Record oil prices have enabled crude exporters including Iran and Nigeria to afford costlier rice amid a tight global supply of the grain, Chookiat said.
Thailand’s top-grade fragrance rice could reach the record in the next three months from about $900 a tonne now, he said.
Vietnam and India are curbing exports to secure supplies at home.
The Philippines plans to buy rice from a regional emergency stockpile, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said on 12 March. Indonesia said on Monday it was considering measures to curb exports.
Iran imported 900,000 tonnes of the grain last year, while Nigeria imported 1.7 million tonnes (mt).
The Philippines, the world’s biggest importer, may purchase 2.1mt overseas this year, up from 1.9mt in 2007, as rising wheat prices make bread and pasta less affordable, Yap said on 11 March.
Thailand may sell white and parboiled rice at around $800 a tonne by the end of June, compared with as much as $650 now, Chookiat said.
“As long as oil prices are high, and more agricultural areas are used for biofuel crops, rice couldn’t go much lower,” Chookiat said, adding that prices of the commodity may stay above $500 a tonne.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Energy Ministry sets 8 hearings on nuclear power plant


BANGKOK, March 24 (TNA) – Thailand's Ministry of Energy Ministry will hold at least eight public hearings to ensure that the public has a proper understanding of the utility of a nuclear-power plant.

Speaking after presiding over a seminar on "Alternative Power Energy: Methods of Communicating to the Public and Public Participation," Energy Minister Lt-Gen. Poonpirom Liptapanlop said the planned construction of the nuclear power plant is part of efforts to accommodate an increased demand for electricity amid surging oil prices and to reduce the greenhouse effect.

But whether the plant will be built as planned or not depends on public opinion and the public's perception and understanding of its usefulness.

Under the plan, at least eight public hearings on the matter will be held and construction is expected to take place during the next 10-13 years.

She said that public opinion and understanding will be sought to ensure awareness and recognition in the first three years.

A final decision on whether the plant should be built or not and which technology would be used for the project would be made in the next three years. Only after that can construction get off the ground.

She said some people living in lower northern province of Nakhon Sawan mailed her details of a proposed area for the nuclear power plant construction.

It showed local people had more understanding of the usefulness of the plant.

Deputy Permanent Secretary for Energy Norkun Sitithipong said the Tha Tako tambon (sub-district)administration organisation in Nakhon Sawan proposed an area for the nuclear power plant construction.

He said he had already surveyed the area and found it is not suitable for building on the construction because it is not close to water resources.

The nuclear power plant must be located close to the sea or the river since it needs water to cool the heating system. (TNA) – E005


Sunday, March 23, 2008

PTT Chief warns of recession and wants Russian investment

PTT CEO warns of recession

Wants Gazprom to invest in the South

POST REPORTERS

High volatility in global crude oil prices could lead to a global economic recession, warns Prasert Bunsumpun, the president and chief executive officer of PTT Plc.

Mr Prasert noted that diesel prices in Asia went as high as $131 per barrel last week, a level that could cause economic growth to collapse.

Prices have swung wildly over the past few days, with diesel dropping to $125 on Thursday. Crude prices rose over $110 per barrel before slumping to around $100 on global concerns about the US economy, slowing US petroleum consumption and the collapse of the investment bank Bear Stearns.

''I would say it was fortunate that there are emerging countries in Asia and the Middle East that are still healthy to help support the world economy. That's the reason why the impact of the US sub-prime crisis has been limited to a certain extent,'' Mr Prasert told the Bangkok Post.

But smaller economies, including Thailand, will inevitably be affected by turmoil in the global market.

Price subsidy programmes can help ease the financial burden on consumers from soaring energy prices over the short term. But Mr Prasert said Thailand needed to take a number of steps to help improve efficiency in energy usage, including a new city plan, investments in mass transit, logistics and energy management systems for buildings.

He acknowledged that PTT, 52% controlled by the Finance Ministry, had an obligation to help the public under government-mandated subsidies.

But long-term price supports would only weaken PTT's competitiveness, as well as the government budget, he added.

For example, PTT is spearheading the promotion of natural gas for vehicles (NGV) by selling it for 8.50 baht per kilogramme, far below the market price of 13 baht.

''At 13 baht, we can only cover the operating expense, and we have no intention to make a profit from NGV, [because NGV] is one of our corporate social responsibility products,'' he said.

PTT is currently losing 5-6 million baht a day on NGV sales.

However, it remains the largest and most profitable company on the Stock Exchange of Thailand, earning 97.8 billion baht on revenues of 1.55 trillion last year.

Yet Mr Prasert said that holding gas prices below market rates could create other distortions. Because domestic natural gas supplies are limited, imports will be needed to meet rising demand from drivers and price increases will be inevitable.

PTT is preparing to expand NGV production to 3,700 tonnes daily by the end of the year to meet demand, with a total of 700 stations nationwide targeted.

Demand for NGV is currently around 1,400 tonnes daily, up from 1,000 tonnes a year ago, and headed for 2,500 tonnes by year-end. PTT plans to lift NGV prices slightly next year with a ceiling set at half the diesel retail price.

Apart from focusing on alternative fuels, PTT has been in talks with the Russian gas giant Gazprom for the past two years about a possible supply deal.

''Gazprom is interested in doing business with us, but we also need to look for a form that could bring benefits to both of us,'' Mr Prasert said.

He said that in the past Thailand imported limited crude shipments from Russia because the distance resulted in costly freight rates. Most Russian products go to Europe, and in Asia only Japan and Korea are regular customers.

He suggested the government could create a partnership with Gazprom by convincing the Russian firm to build an oil refining and distribution hub in southern Thailand.

With a refining base in Thailand, Gazprom could improve the variety of crudes and have competitive logistics costs to attract clients in the region.

''Russia can use us as a base to gain a presence in Asia. At present it has only a small share in the region due to the logistics cost,'' he said.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Around 3,000 foreign merchants attends Myanmar gems emporium



11/3/2008 16:47

Around 3,000 foreign merchants from 20 countries and regions have arrived in Myanmar's biggest city of Yangon to attend the ongoing annual Myanmar gems emporium where quality local gems, jade, pearl and jewelry are being sold on the basis of tender and competitive bidding, emporium organizer told Xinhua today.
Most of the gem traders will deal with purchase of jade under the system designated today at the emporium which started on Sunday with the sale of pearl and jewelry, the organizer said.
The 45th Annual Gems Emporium taking place at the Myanma Gems Emporium Hall and the Convention Center until March 20 put over 7, 000 lots of jade, about 300 lots of gems and 270 lots of pearl on sale, he also said, adding that the highest floor price of a 30- kilogram jade block on show worth 2.38 million euros.
In the 44th annual Myanmar gems emporium held in March last year, 3,652 lots of jade, gems and pearl were sold out, gaining 148 million euros, according to then official statistics.
Again in a mid-year gems emporium in November the same year, which was the 16th, a total of 3,618 lots of jade, gems and pearls worth US$150 million were sold. according to the emporium sources. The event was participated by a total of 3,616 merchants including 2,285 of 1,584 companies from 16 countries and regions covering China, Thailand, Singapore, India, Italy, Britain, Japan, Australia, the United States and Canada.
Myanmar started to hold gem shows annually in 1964, introducing the mid-year one in 1992 and the special one in 2004.
Myanmar, a well-known producer of gems in the world, boasts ruby, diamond, cat's eye, emerald, topaz, pearl, sapphire, coral and a variety of garnet tinged with yellow.
According to the state-run Myanmar Gems Enterprise, of the country's top 10 exporters for the fiscal year 2006-07 which were dominated by the state sector, the MGE stood the third with a gem sale value of US$296.9 million after Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise and the Myanmar Timber Enterprise.
The government's Central Statistical Organization revealed that in 2006-07, Myanmar produced 20,458 tons of jade and 20.879 million carats of gems which include ruby, sapphire, spinel and peridot, as well as 240,595 mommis (902 kilograms) of pearl.
The latest figures also indicate that the country yielded 10, 422 tons of jade and 12.354 million carats of gems as well as 62, 904 mommis (235.89 kilograms) of pearl in the first half (April- September) of 2007-08.

Fake Ferrari made in Thailand star of piracy show


Fake Ferrari unveiled at Brussels anti-piracy exhibition, 10 March 2008
The fake Ferrari is powered by a Subaru engine
A fake Ferrari sports car made in Thailand has become the centrepiece of an exhibition in Brussels warning against the dangers of pirated goods.

The Ferrari P4 - of which only three were made, in 1967 - was made in a back street factory in Thailand and is powered by a Subaru engine.

The Authentics Foundation has used the car to warn against the growing tide of counterfeit goods.

It says pirated medicines and food pose a real threat to human health.

Today, they are into electronics, they are into medicine, they are into food
Authentics Foundation president Timothy P Trainer

"I think this all maybe started with the DVDs and music being pirated and it has just exploded, basically, into something quite different," said model Yasmin Le Bon, an anti-counterfeit campaigner.

European Commission President Jose-Manuel Barroso gave his support to the campaign.

"It is indeed not only an economic problem; but a public health and a consumer problem," Mr Barroso said.

Authentics Foundation president Timothy P Trainer said: "It has got more complicated because now counterfeiters are into everything. Twenty years ago they were more into luxury brands and so on.

"Today, they are into electronics, they are into medicine, they are into food."

The foundation said as much as 80% of the pharmaceuticals sold in Nigeria are fake.

Thaksin Tells Thailand to Cut Rates, Boost Spending

By Nipa Piboontanasawat and Haslinda Amin

March 12 (Bloomberg) -- Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand's former premier, insists that he's done with politics; he isn't done advising politicians on what to do.

Thaksin, who returned from exile last month after having been ousted from office and banned from politics in a 2006 military coup, said Thailand's newly elected government must repair economic damage to the country caused by the leaders who unseated him.

In an interview yesterday with Bloomberg News, Thaksin called for lower interest rates, a weaker currency and more business investment. ``We have to bring back confidence to Thailand after the coup,'' he said. ``It's quite difficult, but the government has to try harder.''

Thaksin's advice to the ruling People Power Party, which was founded by his loyalists and won the first post-coup election in December, suggests he wants to continue exercising political clout, said Suriyasai Katasila of the Campaign for Popular Democracy, an activist group that opposed Thaksin when in office.

``He is running the government behind the stage now, and will come back for sure once he proves his innocence in front of the justice system,'' Suriyasai said. ``His words on the economy have much influence because the team running Thailand's economic policy at the moment is basically his.''

Thaksin, who remains a popular figure for his policy of grants to poor villages, presided over Thailand's fastest economic growth in a decade. In the interview, he said the Southeast Asian nation's interest rates need to be lower to boost confidence among consumers and investors.

`Not Easy'

Finance Minister Surapong Suebwonglee last week said economic growth may be 6 percent this year, the best pace since 2004, when he unveiled tax cuts aimed at spurring spending. Southeast Asia's second-largest economy expanded 4.8 percent in 2007, slowing from 5.1 percent a year earlier.

``It's not easy for any government to step in now right after the coup,'' Thaksin said. ``It's been almost two years that the country has not moved forward.''

Consumer and business confidence in Thailand languished under the junta-backed government amid economic policy bungles and political squabbles.

Thaksin said the Thai currency is ``too strong compared to other currencies in the region.'' The baht is at the highest level in more than a decade after adding 6.9 percent this year, the most among Asia's 10 most-traded currencies outside Japan.

``Because of the strong baht, Thailand should take this opportunity to upgrade the production quality of exporters by bringing in new machines, equipment and technology,'' he said.

Banned From Politics

Thaksin, whose Thai Rak Thai party won a record 377 of 500 parliamentary seats in 2005, was ousted in September 2006 after months of demonstrations in Bangkok by protesters who accused him of corruption. He was also criticized over the 2006 tax-free sale of the mobile-phone company he founded to Singapore's sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings Pte.

In May last year, a nine-judge tribunal appointed by the junta that ousted Thaksin said his party broke laws in a 2006 election. The judges dissolved the party and imposed five-year political bans on 111 executives of Thai Rak Thai, or Thais Love Thais, including Thaksin.

The army justified its coup by saying Thaksin was corrupt. The former premier and his wife Pojamarn, who returned to Thailand in January, face charges over their involvement in purchasing land from the central bank. A separate lawsuit filed this week by a junta-installed committee alleges Thaksin bypassed laws in setting up a lottery.

The Asset Examination Committee froze more than 60 billion baht ($1.9 billion) of assets belonging to Thaksin and his family.

``I can prove my innocence easily, I have done nothing wrong,'' Thaksin said, describing the charges he faces as politically motivated. He pleaded not guilty today during the first hearing in Thailand's Supreme Court.

Thaksin returned to Thailand on Feb. 28 and said he will devote himself to charitable activities and managing the Manchester City soccer team, which he bought last year.

To contact the reporters on this story: Nipa Piboontanasawat in Bangkok at npiboontanas@bloomberg.net; Haslinda Amin in Bangkok at hamin1@bloomberg.net

Burmese Gems Losing Their Luster?



By VIOLET CHO Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Burma’s latest gems show is attracting lackluster reviews from Thai merchants who have attended the event, which is being held March 9-20 in the former capital, Rangoon.

A Thai businessman from the Chanthaburi Gems and Jewelry Traders Association said that gems merchants who have returned from the exhibition were unimpressed by the precious stones on offer. He also said he wouldn’t recommend the event to other Thai traders.

“The auction is mainly of jade for Chinese people, not rubies,” said the Thai businessman, indicating the Thai preference for rubies.

According to an AFP report, the Myanmar Gems Enterprise said that more than 7,700 lots of gems, jade and pearls will be sold at the show. The quantity of jade on auction will be the largest ever, with an estimated value of over US $108 million.

According to official statistics, more than $220 million worth of gems were sold at the last Burma gems emporium, held in March 2007. Burma has had annual gems shows since 1964.

Thailand and China are among the biggest buyers at the shows, which typically attract several thousand visitors from around 20 countries. Attendance is expected to be high again this year, despite growing calls from Western governments and human rights groups for a boycott of Burmese gems, which are a major hard-currency earner for the country’s ruling junta.

Burma has been hit with economic sanctions by the US and other Western governments since the regime ordered a brutal crackdown on peaceful protests last September.

Burma, which is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, has more than 90 percent of the world’s rubies and is a major supplier of diamonds, cat’s eyes, emeralds, topaz, pearls, sapphires, coral and a variety of garnet tinged with yellow.

Thailand's Charoen Pokphand eyes profits from crude palm oil


Thailand

THAILAND/INDONESIA: Thailand's largest agro-industrial conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Group (CP) plans to grow oil palms in Indonesia and Thailand in order to profit from the record crude palm oil prices fueled by an increase use of the vegetable oil to produce biodiesel.


CP intends to invest THB600 million (US$19 million) over the next three years to plant oil palms on 6.72 square kilometres (2.6 sq miles) of its own land in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Songkhla, Ranong, Saraburi and Kamphaeng Phet, according to a Bangkok Post report. The company also aims to expand the plantation area through contract farming to 40 square kilometres (15 sq miles) a year in the first three years, and increase it to 80 square kilometres (31 sq miles) a year from the fourth year onwards.


''We have set a target to have the oil palm plantation area under the contract farming to 320 square kilometres (126 sq miles) within 10 years,'' said Montri Congtrakultien, the company's president and CEO.


As part of the investment plan, the company would set up biodiesel business units in three strategic locations, requiring an investment of about THB 200 million (US$6.3 million) each.


The first unit is planned in Nakhon Si Thammarat to process the output of the lower south region, with the second one in Chumphon to handle the output in the upper south region. The third unit will be built in Saraburi to process the output from the central region.


Each unit would consist of a dumping yard, a crushing plant, a biodiesel refiner and either a 1-megawatt power plant or a gasifier. A gasifier is expected to require an investment of about THB 50 million (US$1.6 million), while a biodiesel plant needs about THB 80 million (US$2.5 million), he said. According to the company's executives, the biodiesel plants are expected to begin production over the next four years, with the output slated to be sold to oil companies.


Meanwhile, CP's Indonesian arm also indicated plans to invest US$280 million to develop palm oil plantations in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Junaidi Sungkono, president director of PT Charindo Palma Plantation, said during an interview with Reuters, the funds would be spent on plantations and six palm oil fruit crushing mills in West Kalimantan. The project is due to be completed in 2015.


Charindo acquired 67,500 hectares (166,796 acres) of land for the oil palm project in 2006. The Indonesian company expects to yield 239,200 tonnes of crude palm oil from the acquired land area in 2016.


Junaidi said the firm was looking at increasing its returns by developing palm oil byproducts. "We are thinking of making oleochemical products in the future," he said, adding that the plan would depend on government programmes and local infrastructure.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Death 'merchant' out of business

Nations unite to arrest arms dealer
Kris Kotarski
For The Calgary Herald
Last week, acting together with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, Thai authorities stormed into a downtown hotel in Bangkok and arrested Viktor Bout, the inspiration for the title character in the 2005 thriller Lord of War.

Bout, who has been accused of being the world's premier private arms trafficker, was caught red-handed plotting to sell surface-to-air missiles and armour-piercing rocket launchers to DEA agents posing as members of FARC, a Colombian rebel group that is designated as a terrorist organization by U.S. authorities.

Bout, who is now awaiting trail in Thailand or extradition to the United States, was finally apprehended after an extraordinary career spanning almost two decades. His reputed exploits are the stuff of legend with fleets of Soviet cargo planes fuelling one civil conflict after another.

Arms deals, blood diamonds, intelligence agencies, child soldiers -- Bout is alleged to be in the middle of all of it, with his name, his presence or his business interests repeatedly popping up at the wrong place at the wrong time, across borders, continents and decades of war.

I first came across Bout's name in 2005, sitting in a United Nations conference hall in Geneva, listening to a presentation by Amnesty International's Brian Wood.

Wood, who then co-ordinated military and security research from Amnesty's London headquarters, was (and remains) a passionate advocate in the struggle to criminalize arms trafficking.

During his 30-minute presentation to an audience of European and North African diplomats and border authorities, Wood stated his case for tighter border controls, co-ordinated action and, above all, legal continuity that would allow merchants like Bout to be prosecuted for global crimes in a global manner.

Wood had only one photo of Bout to make his case -- a grainy picture of a Congolese airstrip, with Bout standing next to a group of camouflage-clad soldiers and in front of one of his cargo planes, a sturdy Ilyushin or Antonov (I couldn't tell the difference at the time). This photo, taken by a Belgian journalist in 2001, was steeped in legend as well. It showed a sturdy man in his 30s or 40s looking blankly past the camera, and was the only known photo of Bout to have been in circulation before his arrest.

Considering Bout's notoriety, not only as a UN sanctions-buster but also as a poster child for the global community's impotence (or reluctance) to bring arms traffickers to justice, his arrest in Thailand marks a significant moment in the fight against the illicit arms trade.

Bout's continued freedom offered a stinging rebuke to an international community of diplomats and law enforcement officials who talked the talk about curbing the global arms trade, but, for reasons of national interest, refused to take action.

The American involvement in Bout's arrest is especially pleasing, since the U.S. is alleged to have a cynical track record in this area. Critics of U.S. policies point out that despite having some of the toughest laws on the books, the U.S. has been reluctant to pursue and arrest private arms dealers, because many prove useful in clandestine American endeavours.

Bout's case offers a nice litmus test for the changing priorities of global governments. While the New York Times reports that immediately after 9/11 U.S. officials were reluctant to pursue Bout, who was suspected of having Russian cover, subsequent reports that Bout may have co-operated with the Taliban and al-Qaeda pushed the U.S. to reconsider its stance on the matter.

After a couple of years of surveillance and some legal manoeuvring, the U.S. increased the pressure on Bout.

The Americans urged the UN to impose a travel ban, and, in October 2006, President George W. Bush issued an executive order freezing his assets and barring U.S. citizens from dealing with him. After a complex DEA sting operation that handed Bout to Thai authorities, the Merchant of Death found himself under arrest.

The arrest will not end the illicit arms trade, but it shows international co-operation in this area is possible.

Perhaps most important, Bout's arrest can serve as a deterrent. The Merchant of Death behind bars is proof that on the murky chessboard of global politics, even the major pieces can fall.

Kris Kotarski's column appears every second Monday.

kkotarski@gmail.com

Chevron: New LNG Plants Could Doom Another

Ruthie Ackerman, 03.10.08, 2:28 PM ET

Soaring gas demand and rising prices have led Chevron, the U.S.'s second-largest oil and gas company, to announce the development of two multi-billion dollar gas projects in Asia. But it looks like the company may be giving one of its gas export ventures the boot in favor of another.

On Monday Chevron announced it planned to develop a liquefied natural gas export venture based on its Wheatstone field off northwestern Australia. The company said it intends to start engineering and design work for an initial 5.5 million U.S. tons-per-year natural gas facility in 2009.

But Chevron is already involved in a separate LNG venture with Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil called Gorgon that would be based on nearby Barrow Island. That venture has been delayed because of lengthy environmental approvals and cost pressures. It was originally supposed to open in 2006.

Roy Krzywosinski, the managing director of Chevron Australia, said the firm is committed to both projects, but Wall Street Access analyst Bernard Picchi isn’t so sure. In fact, Picchi sees Chevron’s development of Wheatstone as a “big blow” for Gorgon.

Picchi said the development of Gorgon has faced a slew of problems–from significant development costs to how to clean the high levels of carbon dioxide from the field. Originally, Picchi said, development costs were estimated at $5 billion. Now estimates range between $20 and $25 billion. He said that while Chevron has tried to justify the low rate of return, Exxon is very unhappy and has held off the development of Gorgon. There has also been persistent speculation of dissent among the joint venture partners as costs continue to rise.

Chevron’s move is also bad news for Sasol, South Africa’s oil, coal, and gas company. Sasol is the leader in the technology and world production of gas-to-liquids technology, which can convert natural gas into liquid fuels. For several years, Chevron and Sasol have been in discussions about a joint venture to use the Wheatstone field for a gas-to-liquid plant. Picchi says that Monday’s announcement shows that Chevron is now planning on using Wheatstone for liquefied natural gas, not gas-to-liquids. LNG projects produce gas that requires specialized handling facilities for use, while gas-to-liquids makes synthetic petroleum products similar to those created from crude oil.

Meanwhile, Chevron announced on Monday that it plans to begin construction of a $3.1 billion natural gas project in the Gulf of Thailand. The Platong Gas II development is designed to boost natural gas processing capacity by 420 million cubic feet per day, Chevron said. The company said the project has the capacity to meet 14% of Thailand's demand for natural gas.

Chevron holds a 69.8% stake in the project. Mitsui Oil Exploration owns 27.4% and PTT Exploration and Production Public holds 2.8%. Startup is scheduled for the first quarter of 2011. Chevron's shares rose 0.6%, or 53 cents, to $85.79 in afternoon trading.

Giant oil firm moves to boost investment in Thailand

BANGKOK, March 10 (TNA) – Gastech 2008, the world's largest international exhibition and trade fair event for the LNG, LPG and natural gas industries, was kicked off here on Monday with giant oil conglomerate Chevron announcing an increase in investment in Thailand by US$3 billion.

The event, which has drawn representatives of more than 300 leading companies from around the world, was attended by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirinthorn at the Bitech exhibition centre in the eastern Bangkok suburb of Bangna.

Delivering a welcoming speech, the president of state-owned oil and gas conglomerate PTT Prasert Bunsumpun said as a host of the show the event was a good opportunity for Thailand to show its potential in natural gas production in the international arena.

He said the PTT group was ready to welcome co-investors in the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) businesses and other public utilities industries as part of its efforts to promote Thailand as the region's leading natural gas producer.

Jim Blackwell, president of Chevron Asia Pacific Exploration and Production Co., said the United States' second largest oil and gas producer had decided to go ahead with a gas production project, which required total investment of $3 billion, in Thailand.

He said the Platong Gas II development, slated for startup in 2011, would increase the company's gas production capacity in the Gulf of Thailand by 420 million cubic feet (11.9 million cubic meters) per day to help feed the growing demand for gas in Thailand. (TNA)-E005

Business News : Last Update : 16:52:53 10 March 2008 (GMT+7:00)

Archives

Giant oil firm moves to boost investment in Thailand
Main consumer goods makers agree to cut prices of key items
Thai, 3 Asean economies weather US sub-prime crisis: S&P
Tax breaks won't affect revenue collection, says FPO
GSB to offer loans to those in medical fields
Thai stocks to gain slightly; baht to remain strong
Bid to promote Thailand as Asian film production hub

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Take Thailand off the world criminal map

Arms dealer's arrest raises unwelcome questions as to what draws such people to Bangkok

Published on March 10, 2008

Local media and the Thai authorities went over the top with the recent arrest of Russian "merchant of death" Viktor Bout, whose globe-trotting came to an abrupt end in the City of Angels on Thursday when Thai police arrested him at the request of the US government. Bout's career was so notorious that it inspired the Hollywood movie "Lord of War", starring Nicholas Cage. He was not the first and he won't be the last of his kind found in Thailand.

But while the police stick their chests out proudly, the incident also shed unwanted spotlight on Bangkok and raised the question why notorious people like Bout like Bangkok so much.

First there were the international drug dealers, followed by Chinese, Russian and Central Asian prostitutes. It was not so long ago when these foreign working ladies were strolling up and down Soi Nana near the notorious intersection where the nightlife resembled South Africa during the apartheid years: on one side of Sukhumvit were the Africans and Arabs, while on the other was a three-floor packed house of farangs and go-go girls. They all had one thing in common: they were looking for the biggest bang for their baht.

Embarrassed by the presence of streetwalkers, Thai police launched a crackdown on the soi, arresting anyone with blond hair, short skirts and uncomfortable shoes. Some faded back into nearby shop houses and apartments, while others packed up and took their business to Pattaya, Thailand's No 1 Sin City on the beach.

But it's not difficult to figure out why men such as Bout, along with international freedom fighters, terrorists and smugglers of drugs and people have a tendency to fall in love with the splendour of Bangkok. After all, we have lax financial regulations, dubious immigration regulations and plenty of outlets for top mafia bosses to lie low and be entertained in all sorts of ways.

Too often, Thai officials turn a blind eye to their activities until pressure from some foreign government becomes unbearable. Bout is a case in point. If the US didn't ask for him, the Thai police probably wouldn't have moved in on him.

While our law enforcement is notoriously flawed, our national interest in the Cold War also provided a playground for men like Bout to exploit. We turned a blind eye as some in security and intelligence circles armed every group along the border. From Khmer Rouge guerrillas in the east to Burmese rebels in the west, we made sure that these buffers were armed, ready and able to defend our soil. That was as recent as the 1980s.

But sooner or later these benefits outlived their usefulness. The aftermath of this policy is that some of us are stuck with an enormous load of small arms - just like the former Soviet Union in the post-Cold War era.

In a way, Bout's arrest here was a case in which the chicken had come home to roost. And no matter how much the Thai police tried to put on a brave face, the incident was nothing less than us getting a test of our own medicine.

The same short-sighted security policy was also apparent in the 1960s when the government turned a blind eye to the illicit activities of opium warlords in the Golden Triangle in exchange for their support in the anti-Communist effort.

In the 1970s, dope pushers in Bangkok were supplying American GIs with marijuana. In the late 1980s, cocaine made its way onto the streets of Bangkok. The early 1990s marked the height of the African cocaine connection. Hardly a day went by when local Thai dailies didn't have photos of recently arrested Nigerian drug traffickers on their front pages.

The 1990s saw grade-four heroin from clandestine laboratories operated by the Wa in the Golden Triangle flooding the streets of Bangkok, followed by new and improved methamphetamines, known locally as yaa baa, about five years later.

In the late 1990s, a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam operative was building a one-man suicide submarine in Phuket. It was the same type of submarine used in an attack on the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo.

While it is easy to blame foreigners for putting Bangkok on the international map as a major destination for criminals, the Thai government is not entirely blameless.

We need to overhaul the entire system, starting with immigration to the police officers on the street, as well as strengthen the entire justice system to ensure that enforcement is applied uniformly across the board.

The Nation

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Why Was Viktor Bout in Thailand When He Was Arrested?

By Zachary Abuza

Today Thai authorities announced that they had arrested the international arms trafficker, Victor Bout. For more on Bout, I ask that you see my colleague Doug Farah's posts and excellent book. But Bout's arrest in Thailand begs the question: what was he doing there?

Bout has armed insurgencies in the region in the past, in particular in the Philippines. There is more to suggest that Bout was in the region not to arm insurgents, but to negotiate the purchase of arms. Though there is an insurgency in Southern Thailand, almost all of their weaponry has been captured.

Thai authorities announced that they will hold a press conference on Friday on the details of Bout's arrest. They have revealed little information other than the fact that he had recently landed in Thailand, though had been in the region for a period of time and that they had been tracking him. That he was arrested on a DEA tipoff suggests that he may have been involved in narcotics, metamphetimines or heroin from Burma, serious concerns for both the Americans and Thais.

If he was shopping for arms, my educated hunch is he was buying surplus Chinese weapons from the Burmese junta. They have enormous stockpiles of weapons provided by China and need the cash. Bout used to buy up the huge cache of weaponry (mainly Chinese) at the border market between Thailand and Cambodia, but his consignment-amount of weapons aren't so available there anymore.

Bout may also have been in either Burma or Cambodia to illegally purchase end-user certificates which would allow him to purchase large amounts of weaponry illegally. One could also not rule out a meeting with North Korean arms dealers. North Korean operatives are active in Southeast Asia, where they purvey everything from weapons, to metamphetimines, to "Super Notes" (high-quality counterfeit U.S. dollars). The Koreans have a history of selling end-user certificates to unsavory figures. A few years ago they sold the Tamil Tigers end-user certificates that allowed them to purchase a large consignment of weapons from NORINCO.

Thailand is the regional transit hub, and it has a long history of being a center of narcotics trade and document forging. But since 9/11 the government has upgraded its intelligence capabilities as well as its border security. Bout was not the first big fish to be arrested there. These investments are paying dividends.

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://counterterrorismblog.org/mt/pings.cgi/4958

Thailand to talk with Cambodia over JDA project

Foreign Minister Noppadol Pattama said Saturday that the Thai Foreign Ministry and Energy Ministry would negotiate with Cambodian to launch a project of joint development areas.

Noppadol said Thailand and Cambodia have some 26,000 square kilometres of overlapping areas along the border and the areas were rich with natural gas and oil resources.

He said it was estimated that the areas had natural gas worth Bt3.5 trillion and oil worth Bt1.5 trillion so the two country should jointly develop the areas.

He said talks would be held how to divide benefits from the project between the two countries.

The Nation

Don’t Lose Control in the Golden Triangle

By YENI Saturday, March 8, 2008

A surprise attack on a Chinese maritime police boat on the Mekong River late last month has put the transnational narcotics trade in the Golden Triangle back in the spotlight. It has also highlighted the failure of international efforts to control lawlessness in the region, where renegade militias and other armed groups based in a remote corner of Burma are demonstrating that they remain a law unto themselves.

Thai media reported that the Chinese boat was patrolling the river where it flows between Burma and Laos, under a regional cooperation scheme aimed at fighting drug trafficking. Later, a second boat carrying half a dozen people opened fire as it approached the Chinese vessel. The gang boarded the Chinese craft, shooting and stabbing some of the six police on board before jumping back onto their own vessel to escape.

The clash lasted about five minutes. Three Chinese police were seriously injured in the attack, and have been hospitalized in the northern Thai city of Chiang Rai. According to Pakorn Pothichai, commander of the Thai Navy mission for the Mekong, the gang was believed to be working to protect a shipment of drugs. Sources in the area where the incident occurred suggested that a drug gang based in Burma and led by Naw Kham, who once served under the late drug lord Khun Sa as a member of the disbanded Mong Tai Army, was behind the attack.

Naw Kham’s gang is just one of five armed groups active in the area. The Burmese Army, the Shan State Army-South, the United Wa State Army and a 2-3,000-strong militia known as the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), run by Lin Mingxian (more widely known as Sai Leun), also operate in a volatile region of Burma bordering Thailand, Laos and China.

The notorious Golden Triangle is no longer just a land of brightly colored poppy fields, opium-smoking hill tribes and heroin labs hidden in the jungle. A global US State Department report released last week said that poppy cultivation had indeed decreased in the area in 2006-7, but surveys by the United States and the United Nations found indications that drug gangs had replaced opium cultivation with the manufacture and trafficking of synthetic drugs, such as amphetamine-type stimulants, crystal methamphetamine and Ketamine.

Observers have also noted that Burma’s sector of the Golden Triangle is producing not only narcotics, but is also heavily involved in the trade of other contraband—everything from endangered wildlife to cheap counterfeit pharmaceuticals and pirated CDs. It also plays host to a number of casinos catering to gamblers from neighboring countries.

At the governmental level, Burma is actively engaged with its neighbors China, India, and Thailand in efforts to control drug trafficking. Thailand has contributed over US $1.6 million to support an opium crop substitution and infrastructure project in southeastern Shan State. In 2007, Thailand assigned an officer from the Office of Narcotics Control Board to its mission in Rangoon. Burma-China cross border law enforcement cooperation has increased significantly, resulting in several successful operations and the handover of several Chinese fugitives who had fled to Burma.

The drugs, however, continue to flow across Burma’s borders in all directions. A sharp increase in the production and export of synthetic drugs has prompted some to start referring to the Golden Triangle as the “Ice Triangle.” According to a US report, drug gangs based in the Burma-China and Burma-Thailand border areas, many of whose members are ethnic Chinese, produce several hundred million methamphetamine tablets annually for markets in Thailand, China, and India, as well as for onward distribution beyond the region.

The recent attack on a Chinese police boat should alert all governments in the region to the need to boost their efforts against drug gangs. The governments need to show their serious commitment to preventing money laundering by major narco-trafficking groups in the region, as a means of controlling their networks and business.

At the same time, however, there need to be guarantees that the “war on drugs” will not turn into a killing spree, as it did in 2003, when former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra initiated a crackdown that left more than 2,500 people dead in a matter of weeks.

But any hopes that the authorities will exercise greater restraint in their handling of the problem in the future seem likely to meet with disappointment, after Thailand’s Interior Minister Chalerm Yubamrung expressed his indifference to the human cost of hard-line drug policies. “When we implement a policy that may bring 3,000 to 4,000 bodies, we will do it,” he said.

If Thailand and other countries in the region continue take this approach to controlling the drug trade, there will be no lasting improvement in the situation. The cost in baht and lost lives will be enormous, while drug gangs lurking on the other side of the Burmese border will remain, waiting for their chance to resume their nefarious business with complete impunity.

Thai police arrest 'lord of war'







Thai police arrested Viktor Bout at
a hotel in Bangkok [AFP]

A suspected Russian arms dealer, dubbed by some the Merchant of Death, has been arrested in Thailand, accused of trying to buy weapons for Colombian fighters.

Thai police arrested Viktor Bout on Thursday at a Bangkok hotel after they had arrived at the hotel looking for one of the Russian's associates.




Bout, who is the target of an international arrest warrant and US sanctions, was attempting "to procure weapons for Colombia's Farc rebels", the Thai police said in an arrest report.

He is wanted by Interpol for allegedly violating UN arms embargoes to several countries in Africa.







Later US officials said Bout had been arrested in a sting operation in which US anti-drugs agents posed as Farc fighters.
An investigation had been underway over the past eight to 12 months and "the undercover operation since November 2007", an official was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying.
Trafficking arms
Bout has run a network of air cargo companies in the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe and the US.

According to the UN and the US Treasury Department, he has sold or brokered arms that have helped fuel wars in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan.

"After the end of the Cold War there are a
lot of extra weapons, especially of Soviet-Russian origin, available
"

Pavel Felgenhauer, defence analyst
A 2005 report by Amnesty International, a Britain-based human rights organisation, said that Bout was "the most prominent foreign businessman" involved in trafficking arms to UN-embargoed destinations from Bulgaria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and other countries.
His life was the inspiration for the Hollywood film Lord of War.
Bout has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Russia is likely to seek Bout's extradition, the RIA Novosti news agency on Thursday quoted a Russian law-enforcement official as saying.
"Russia is currently waiting for official confirmation from Thailand of the businessman's arrest. We should get that in two or three days. After that we can demand his extradition to Russia," an unnamed official was quoted as saying.
International trade

Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based defence analyst, told Al Jazeera that the international arms trade was worth billions of dollars.
"After the end of the Cold War there are a lot of extra weapons, especially of Soviet-Russian origin, available and a lot of skilled mercenary fighters including pilots and mechanics," he said.
"So they [arms dealers] deliver not just simply small arms or just guns, but MiG fighters. They deliver helicopter gunships, together with mercenary fighters, which have been used in wars in the Balkans, in Africa, in Asia.
"Really, it's like delivering pizza - it's really hot. This is a cash market. If you pay, you get your delivery in several days, on the spot together with mercenaries and you can go to war."
Felgenhauer said Bout "most likely knows a lot" about the trade.
"He can embarrass a lot of people - in Russia, but not only in Russia," he said.
Although Bout has been investigated by police in several countries, he has never been prosecuted for arms dealing.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Abar Energy's Thai oil concessions

Aabar Energy enters deal with Australian company Horizon Oil
By Himendra Mohan Kumar, Staff ReporterPublished: March 03, 2008, 00:47
Abu Dhabi: Aabar Energy (Aabar) has entered into a farm-out arrangement with Australia's Horizon Oil to transfer a 20 per cent participating interest in three exploration blocks in the Gulf of Thailand.
"We have eight concessions in Thailand and farm-out is a normal practice within the oil industry to reduce risks," an Aabar spokeswoman said.
"Horizon will pay 40 per cent of the seismic and drilling costs of the initial three-year work programmes for Blocks G1/48, G3/48 and G6/48 to earn a 20 per cent participating interest in each of the three concessions. Pearl will remain as operator of the concessions following the transaction," Aabar said.

Borders and resources

Phnom Penh - Cambodia declared the Preah Vihear Khmer temple off the agenda when Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej made an official visit that raised some old animosities in Cambodia.
Samak is already back in Thailand after his overnight stay on Monday and Tuesday, which aimed at strengthening bilateral ties but the temple strengthened some Cambodians' suspicions.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Samak's visit was a tradition for new leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which both countries are members.
Hor Namhong said Samak and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen will address issues including the Thai-funded repairs of a number of Cambodian border roads, but there would be no signing ceremony.
"But Hun Sen will not talk about the Preah Vihear Temple," he said.
Cambodia has sought to register the ancient temple on the far northern border as a Unesco World Heritage site, but Thailand has objected.
Instead, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An would visit Thailand and hold specific talks with the Thai side about the temple "in the near future," he said, without setting a date.
Some Cambodian groups have been angered by Thailand's obstruction of Cambodia's request to have the disputed temple listed. Some Thai groups are equally upset that Cambodia will not consult Thailand, which currently offers the only easy ingress to the long-disputed temple location.
Cambodia's nationalistic Student Movement for Democracy issued a statement demanding that Hun Sen refuse to speak with Samak on the issue, citing the 1962 ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Hague that Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia.
The movement's leader, Kein Sara, was briefly imprisoned in 2003 for his alleged role in the anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh. Angry mobs burned the Thai embassy and Thai businesses after false rumours spread that a Thai actress supposedly claimed that another cultural icon, the Angkor Wat temple complex, was Thai. Sara was quickly released.
Although allies, tensions between the neighbouring nations go back for centuries. In 2003, some Cambodian firefighters showed their tacit approval of the riots by reportedly taking water to put out the Thai embassy fires from the city's sewers instead of fire hydrants.
These tensions have not been helped by Thailand's refusal to agree on sea borders as Cambodia looks to exploit potentially rich offshore oil reserves within two years, another issue expected to be on Samak's agenda. (dpa)

Thai PM vows to build kingdom's first casinos

BANGKOK (AFP) — Thailand's new prime minister promised Tuesday to build the kingdom's first casinos, which he said would bring tourist dollars into a country where gambling is currently illegal.
Samak Sundaravej said he planned to build five casinos open to both foreign holidaymakers and Thai citizens in tourist hotspots Phuket, Pattaya, Khon Kaen, Hat Yai and Chiang Mai.
"Thais who want to gamble can gamble, and police can do other jobs instead of cracking down on illegal gambling dens," Samak told reporters.
Tourists will be allowed to try their luck at the tables for free, Samak said, but Thai citizens would have to pay a 100,000 baht (3,175 dollars) entrance fee.
"The entrance fee will go to charity," said Samak, who was approved as prime minister earlier this year after his party won December elections.
He did not make clear whether the hefty sum would be a one-off membership fee.
Gambling is illegal in Thailand -- a Buddhist country -- but Thais flock to neighbouring Cambodia and Myanmar where casinos dot the border.
Under-the-table wagers are also placed on sports in this football-mad country, with one economic research centre estimating that Thais bet nearly one billion dollars on the 2006 World Cup.
Samak insisted that casinos were not bad for Thailand, and said other countries in Southeast Asia were building them.
Singapore is due to open its first casinos in 2010, but will bar almost 30,000 people including bankrupts from entering premises in an effort to curb associated social ills.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Salamander Oil encounters oil in Thai wells

Salamander says GFI Oil & Gas encounters oil pay at Bualuang field in..

Thailand

LONDON (Thomson Financial) - Salamander Energy, said GFI Oil and Gas, with which it agreed the proposed acquisition of its entire issued and to-be-issued share capital on Dec 14 2007, has encountered oil pays at its first two development wells at the Bualuang field in Thailand.

GFI's chief executive officer Alex Warmath said, 'We are pleased with the progress we have made so far in developing the Bualuang Field and with the initial results of the development drilling program currently underway.

'Our work at Bualuang continues on track, with the FPSO Rubicon Vantage expected on location by late March 2008,' he added.

GFI holds rights for a 60 pct interest in the Block B8/38-Bualuang field, the release said. TFN.newsdesk@thomson.com vsr/rw

Horizon takes stake in 3 Thai concessions

Horizon takes stake in 3 Thai concessions

Story link: Horizon takes stake in 3 Thai concessions by Tara Malhotra
Horizon takes stake in 3 Thai concessions

Horizon Oil Limited advises that it has today signed a farm-out arrangement with Pearl Energy Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of Aabar Energy PJSC, to acquire 20% participating interests in three exploration concessions in the Gulf of Thailand.

Under the terms of the transaction, Horizon Oil will pay 40% of the seismic and drilling costs of the initial three-year work programs for Blocks G1/48, G3/48 and G6/48 to earn a 20% participating interest in each of the three concessions.

Pearl will remain as operator of the concessions following the transaction, which is conditional upon the approval of the Thai authorities.

Carnarvon Petroleum Provides Update on Operations Onshore Thailand

Friday, February 29, 2008

Following on from the L20/50 concession block official signing in Bangkok with the Minister of Energy on 21 January 2008, Carnarvon Petroleum Ltd (“Carnarvon”) is pleased to announce that exploration activities are about to commence on the Concession.

The L20/50 concession is a large 3,947 km2 block area located in the southern extent of the Phitsanulok Basin, 30 kms south of the large Sirikit oil and gas field.

A high resolution aeromagnetic survey is being planned to be flown over the new concession in April 2008 subject to gaining necessary Government and environmental approvals. These new data with existing broadly spaced seismic data will provide a 3 dimensional view of the subsurface. This will define optimum areas for the recording of new seismic in the most prospective parts of the concession, in a cost effective manner.

A previously drilled well in the Concession, Nong Bua #1, encountered positive oil shows in sandstone reservoir however due to testing limitations a flow to surface was not achieved. Carnarvon considers that a redrill together with required artificial lift may result in a commercial flow of oil from the well.

The re-drill of Nong Bua #1 is now being planned, depending on appropriate environmental and government requirements, and a technical assessment of all available data. The earliest timing for a redrill of Nong Bua #1 is late 2008.

Permit Holders
Carnarvon Petroleum Ltd (Operator) 50%
Sun Resources NL 50%

Thai gold hits record high as oil keeps rising and dollar falls

CHAROEN KITTIKANYA

Gold roared to an all-time record yesterday above 15,000 baht per baht-weight (15.16 grammes) as global prices continued to surge.

World gold prices reached $973 an ounce after crude oil set an all-time high of $103 a barrel and the US dollar dropped against other currencies.

Spot gold rose as high as $973.10, up from $968.90 late in New York on Thursday. Gold has gained 16% this year. On Jan 2 it broke the key $850 mark for the first time since January 1980.''Speculation is all around that the gold price would test $1,000 an ounce, but I personally believe that barrier could not be broken, as we expect that speculators are unlikely to tolerate the rising prices to take a profit in the near future,'' said Jitti Tangsithpakdi, the president of the Gold Traders Association.

Local retail prices for gold ornaments rose yesterday to 15,050 baht before easing back to close at 14,300. Gold bar prices rose to 14,650 baht from 14,450.

Mr Jitti said today's market belonged only to sellers because of the rising prices, leaving the gold business in the doldrums. ''The gold business in Thailand nowadays is very sluggish. It will get worse if the global gold price climbs to $1,000 an ounce as expected. This business will be in trouble and goldsmiths will be the most affected,'' he said.

A price rally due to both the poor economy and concerns about political stability has pushed as many as 200,000 goldsmiths out of the industry. About 100,000 goldsmiths are currently employed.

''Some goldsmiths became farmers, abandoning their craft,'' said Mr Jitti. ''If the gold price remains this high, I am worried that job cuts will continue.''

Jewellery accounted for just 30% of the Thai gold industry's sales last year, down from 80% five years ago as housewives shunned purchases, Mr Jitti said. More gold bullion, which is bought by wealthy people for investment, was sold instead, he said.

Thailand imports between 70 billion and 80 billion baht worth of gold a year. The Gold Traders Association said gold imports last year plunged 73.7% to 21 billion baht, while volume fell 55.55%. Exports fell 59% to 15 billion baht. Local demand for gold was off 82.8% to six billion baht. About 4.6 billion baht went to bars and the rest for ornaments.

''The strong baht has fortunately helped tame domestic prices,'' said Mr Jitti. ''Domestic gold prices would have reached more than 16,000 baht if the baht stood at 35 baht on average against the US dollar.''

Thailand-Laos rail service begins in late April 2008

BANGKOK, March 1 (TNA) – Rail service between Thailand and neighbouring Laos will start late this April, and the Thai Ministry of Transport is confident that the direct link will further enhance tourism and trade between the two countries.

Chaisawat Kittipornpaiboon, Thailand's permanent secretary for Transport, said the rail lines of the two countries were connected on the Thai-Lao 'Mitraphab' Friendship Bridge in the Thai border province of Nong Khai on February 20.

The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) plans to begin its rail services to Laos around late April, said Mr. Chaisawat.

Construction of the rail line from the middle of the bridge to Tanalaeng in Laos has taken 18 months and is due to be completed next month as the SRT has also installed a traffic control system and telecommunication facilities.

Initially, two passenger train services from Bangkok-Nong Khai-Ban Thanaleng will be operated while a special ticket between Nong Khai and Ban Thanaleng will be issued for tourists. (TNA)-E111

Thailand-Laos rail service begins in late April
BANGKOK, March 1 (Xinhua) -- Rail service between Thailand and neighboring Laos will start late this April, according to the Thai Ministry of Transport on Saturday.

Chaisawat Kittipornpaiboon, Thailand's permanent secretary for Transport, was quoted by the Thai News Agency as saying that the rail lines of the two countries were connected on the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge in the Thai border province of Nong Khai on Feb.20.

The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) plans to begin its rail services to Laos around late April, said Chaisawat.

Construction of the rail line from the middle of the bridge to Ban Tanalaeng in Laos has taken 18 months and is due to be completed next month as the SRT has also installed a traffic control system and telecommunication facilities.

Initially, two passenger train services from Bangkok-Nong Khai-Ban Thanaleng will be operated while a special ticket between NongKhai and Ban Thanaleng will be issued for tourists.