Support sought for Thai tech sector


Tourists are few and far between at the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Ratchaburi, Thailand, on Saturday. Efforts are being made to diversify the economy. [WANG TENG/XINHUA]

Thailand's digital economy, seen as the key to the country's post-pandemic recovery, needs more government support and policy stability to grow, experts said.

The World Bank said in a report released on Tuesday that the adoption of digital technologies has the potential to support Thailand's recovery from COVID-19 and ensure a more competitive economy over the longer term.

Digital-led development can help offset the scarring impact of the pandemic and ensure that growth is inclusive and equitable, said Birgit Hansl, the World Bank's country manager for Thailand.

Since the pandemic took hold in Thailand in March last year, new digital service consumers have comprised 30 percent of the country's total, and consumption among internet users has reached 90 percent, the second-highest in the region after Singapore, according to the report.

The pandemic has accelerated digitalization in businesses, government and individuals' behaviors, said Arthur Gogatz, associate professor at King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang in Bangkok.

Yet, Gogatz said it will still be "a tough call" to diversify the tourism-dependent economy through digitalization, mainly due to a lack of specific planning and policy uncertainties.

"Digitalization here is on a fast track, ... but the track is not organized," Gogatz told China Daily, adding that a digitalization gap between different social classes presents another challenge.

Pawee Jenweeranon, law lecturer at Thammasat University, said there are several key legal and regulatory gaps in the country's digital ecosystem, including conditions in Thai laws that make digital companies hesitant to invest, along with policy uncertainty and lack of standards around data handling and security.

Though Thailand published the Personal Data Protection Act as its first consolidated law to govern data protection in May 2019, Pawee said a delay in selecting committee members and rolling out subordinate legislations has made the situation uncertain and created challenges for businesses.

Although the Thai government has provided basic digital infrastructure over the past decade for Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy, the country's digital innovation ecosystem remains small in contrast, with its limited number of digital solution firms.

"We need to advance agile responsive and resilient approaches in adopting new technologies and in preparing for the future of digital government and sustainable development," said Pawee, noting that existing regulations should be amended to support digital transformation.

Good sign

Voraprapa Nakavachara, assistant economics professor at Chulalongkorn University, said she expects the growth of e-commerce, livestreaming, digital payments and lending to continue even after the pandemic.

Voraprapa said it is a good sign that the Thai government understands the importance of digital technology and its role in supporting the economy, noting its efforts to boost digital funding.

The government has allocated 2.4 billion baht ($71.8 million) for the 2022 fiscal year to continue the implementation of six key projects under the Thailand Digital Government Plan, including a welfare platform and data development for the agricultural sector, reported the Bangkok Post on Monday. The figure represents an increase of 20 percent from the previous fiscal year.

"Banks and large corporations are also moving fast to adopt financial technologies and investing in them," said Tridbodi Arunanondchai, vice-chairman and group CEO of fintech startup Lightnet.

Noting that the central banks of China and Thailand are working on a cross-border digital currency project, Tridbodi said he expects more seamless and efficient trade finance between the two countries.

The People's Bank of China-China's central bank-and those of Thailand and the United Arab Emirates, together with the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, launched the Multiple Central Bank Digital Currency Bridge in February to study cross-border use of central bank digital currencies.

Voraprapa said Thailand has benefited from the local presence of Chinese tech giants, including Alibaba, Tencent and Huawei.

"As Thailand still has potential growth in the digital economy, I think Chinese investments and Chinese business presence in Thailand could benefit both countries," she said.

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