Thursday, July 2, 2009

Chinese seek greater say in Thai banks

China's largest commercial bank, Industrial and Commerce Bank of China (ICBC), has asked Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to consider lifting the foreign shareholding ceiling in Thai banks.

ICBC chairman Jiang Jianqing made the proposal at their meeting in Beijing on Friday, said Prime Minister's Office Minister Virachai Virameteekul.

Virachai said ICBC was keen to take more than 49 per cent of Thailand's ACL Bank but Thai law caps foreign shareholding in Thai businesses at 49 per cent.

ICBC also asked the premier to consider raising to 50 per cent the current 25-per-cent limit on foreign directors on any board.

ICBC has expressed interest in such a deal for years, but it has delayed in expectation of a revision of the foreign share-ownership level in a bid to seek control of management.

Abhisit said he would ask the Finance Ministry to consider the request, which he said would depend on whether the entry of ICBC would increase competition within Thailand's banking sector, which would narrow the spread of the interest rate.

The other issue the finance ministry will consider is whether the entry of ICBC would make financial services in Thailand more widely accessible to Thais.

"The Thai PM said the central bank and Finance Ministry had known of the proposal for several years and would consider it positively way," Virachai said.

Finance Minister Korn Jatichatikavanij is willing to meet ICBC's executive to discuss the proposal during his visit to China in September, he added.

ICBC's executive told the Thai PM that its entry into the Thai market via acquisition of ACL Bank would have a very positive impact and substantially enhance the Thai strategic profile in the Mekong area.

Virachai quoted Jiang Jianqing as saying that ICBC's expansion in Thailand would support Chinese investment and trade in the country and would dynamise the local market with a large customer base, experienced management, advanced IT technology and proven solid performance and risk management experience throughout the recent financial crisis.

ICBC is the largest of China's "Big Four" banks by assets and operating scale. It is also the world's largest bank by market capitalisation at US$252.85 billion (Bt8.6 trillion).

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