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[BANGKOK] Thai exports were far weaker than expected in January and imports tumbled again, renewing pressure on the military government to get the stumbling economy moving.
The army staged a coup in May in a bid to end months of political unrest and kick-start Southeast Asia's second's largest economy. However, exports remain stalled and domestic consumption subdued, while government plans to spend heavily on infrastructure projects have not gotten on track.
Exports, which equal more than 60 per cent of gross domestic product, dropped 3.46 per cent in January from a year earlier, the Commerce Ministry said on Wednesday.
That was worse than the most pessimistic forecast in a Reuters poll, in which the median number was an increase of 2.55 per cent. January's fall was the biggest since August.
In December, exports rose 1.9 per cent from a year earlier and imports were down 8.7 percent.
The ministry said exports to China dropped 20 per cent and those to Japan were off 7.5 per cent. It blamed the drop mainly on weak prices for agricultural exports, especially rubber, which fell 41 per cent.
Thai exports were weak even before political tensions rose in late 2013, hurting tourism, consumption and the overall economy. Exports fell in both 2013 and 2014, a big obstacle to economic recovery.
January was the fourth straight month in which imports dropped. Many imported materials are assembled into completed goods and shipped out again. Last year, they tumbled 9 per cent.
With exports and domestic demand poor, economic growth last year was only 0.7 per cent, the weakest since flood-hit 2011. For this year, the central bank sees GDP growing 4 per cent and exports only 1 per cent.
Toranee Chiochan, managing director at Sun Expo Services, an exhibition and machinery logistics company that's involved in trade, said this year "we will have to hold our breath. Profit will be low but we don't think we will all go under."