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Thai economy posts weakest growth for three years

Gross domestic product (GDP) expanded 0.7 per cent last year, well down from the 2.9 per cent recorded in 2013.

[BANGKOK] Thailand's economy slowed sharply in 2014 to grow at its slowest pace for three years, as political turmoil engulfing the kingdom compounded a fall in agricultural prices and waning exports.

Gross domestic product (GDP) expanded 0.7 per cent last year, well down from the 2.9 per cent recorded in 2013, the the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) said in a statement on Monday.

The figure is the weakest since 0.1 per cent in 2011, when the country was battered by devastating floods.

Growth was widely expected to take a battering from months of political unrest that damaged tourist arrivals, slowed foreign investment and paralysed government spending before the army seized power in May vowing to restore peace and put zip to the economy.

However, there were some good signs as fourth-quarter growth came in at 2.3 per cent on a year-on-year basis, and 0.6 per cent on the previous quarter, according to the board.

"The expansion of GDP in this quarter was due to an upturn in the non-agricultural sector," a rise in domestic and external demand and greater investment, the board added.

Over the year, Thailand's key agricultural sectors - including rice and rubber - struggled with falling global prices, curbing the amount of crops produced and taking money out of Thais' pockets.

The ruling junta has vowed to pump billions of dollars into the economy, mainly through long-planned infrastructure schemes.

But the latest figures will heap pressure on the leaders, who have vowed to curb subsidies to agriculture and called on Thais to wean themselves of credit. Thailand is one of Southeast Asia's most indebted kingdoms.

The troubles for the once buoyant economy comes as regional rivals Indonesia and the Philippines pull ahead.

"The Thai economy should gain a firmer footing in the coming quarters, but growth is still likely to disappoint by past standards," Capital Economics said in a briefing note.