CHALLENGES remain in Thailand, but Singapore companies should tap the business opportunities in infrastructure, consumer services and manufacturing there, said International Enterprise (IE) Singapore chairman Seah Moon Ming on Friday.
He was speaking at a lunchtime dialogue at the Shangri-La Hotel graced by visiting Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who was in Singapore for a two-day official visit.
Seventeen Singapore business leaders were at the closed-door event organised under IE Singapore's "Global Conversations" initiative, to engage the Thai leader and discuss the latest development plans in the kingdom and their impact on businesses.
The executives were from Singapore's trade associations, as well as companies from the transport, logistics, real estate, technology and manufacturing sectors.
Among the others in attendance were Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn, Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and IE Singapore chief executive Teo Eng Cheong.
In his opening remarks, Mr Seah offered reasons for his optimism in Thailand's upper-middle income economy, which he described as an "attractive investment location in the region".
"Thailand's Infrastructure Development Plan presents good opportunities in airport expansion, seaport and metro projects," he said. This 3.3 trillion baht (S$131.7 billion) development plan, viewed as the main driver of economic growth, aims to improve transport links in and outside Thailand by boosting the rail, aviation and cruise sectors.
"On the consumer-services front, demand continues to be driven by a rising Thai middle class. In manufacturing, Thailand's strength in automotive remains a key pillar in its economy," Mr Seah added.
Despite political uncertainties and weak export sentiments, Thailand's gross domestic product is expected to grow by 3.5 per cent this year, a strong increase from 0.8 per cent in 2014; the country's long-term growth potential is estimated to average 4 per cent over the next decade.
IE Singapore's Mr Teo, noting the resilience of South-east Asia's second-largest economy, said: "Amid challenges, Thailand's economic recovery is expected to gather momentum gradually, driven by infrastructural investment, consumption and tourism.
"As the Asean market becomes more integrated, Thailand is likely to benefit, given its central role in the global supply chain for electronics and automotive assembly. Singapore companies should remain engaged with Thailand for the long term."
Some of the local small and medium-sized enterprises that have recently expanded in Thailand include Hotel Clover, which will open a 95-room boutique hotel in Bangkok - its first property outside Singapore - this September.
Pacific Integrated Logistics is incorporating in Thailand and will provide logistics support for firms in the oil-and-gas industry in Rayong, the centre of Thailand's chemical and automotive industries.
Meanwhile, TWG Tea has six outlets in Bangkok since opening its first tea salon and boutique in the Thai capital three years ago. The global tea company expects its business in Thailand to grow by nearly 50 per cent this year with a sales forecast of 250 million baht.