Shippers forecast 5-8% growth despite Omicron

Despite the ongoing Omicron outbreak, a group of Thai shippers are maintaining their export growth forecast at 5-8% this year, driven by the recovery of partner trading countries and the baht's weakness.

Chaichan Chareonsuk, chairman of the Thai National Shippers' Council (TNSC), said exports are likely to maintain growth momentum this year, albeit at a slower pace than the 15-16% projected for last year.

The council expects outbound shipments to rise 6-7% year-on-year in January to about US$21 billion.

In the first quarter of 2022, export growth is likely to stay at an average of 5%, he said, assuming Thailand can effectively contain Omicron outbreaks during the period.

In addition, Mr Chaichan said exporters are speeding up deliveries to importers for the Chinese New Year, which falls earlier than usual this year, and for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

However, he said many risk factors remain, especially prolonged Omicron outbreaks in Thailand and important trading partners the EU and the US.

Other stumbling blocks include labour shortages in the manufacturing sector; high freight rates in the EU, the US, Japan and South Korea; and insufficient shipping space.

Shortages of raw materials and volatile prices of semiconductors, steel and oil are also key areas of concern, said Mr Chaichan.

"We're gravely concerned, in particular, about the Omicron outbreaks," he said.

"If the infections spiral out of control, many governments around the world may have to reconsider the resumption of strict lockdown measures. This will affect overall economic confidence and international trade."

Mr Chaichan said the council already proposed the Bank of Thailand help stabilise the baht's value, citing appropriate rates for exports should be 32-34 baht per US dollar.

The TNSC also urged the Energy Ministry to help control energy costs to prevent any adverse impact to entrepreneurs, as they are still recovering from the hardships of the pandemic.

The Labour Ministry needs to accelerate the entry of foreign workers for the manufacturing sector by establishing a central management area or a one-stop service centre for foreign worker administration, he said.

According to Mr Chaichan, the government should help subsidise certain expenses incurred from foreign worker administration, citing the costs of importing foreign workers at 12,000-22,000 baht per worker, compared with 4,000-5,000 before the pandemic began.

The Thai government should also accelerate free trade agreement talks with foreign dialogue partners, particularly Europe, he said.

According to the latest report by the Commerce Ministry, exports expanded by 16.4% in the first 11 months of last year to $246 billion, while imports increased by 29.4% to $242 billion, which resulted in a trade surplus of $3.92 billion.

Products that expanded strongly in November were agricultural and food products such as fruit, cassava products, rubber, sugar and pet food; work-from-home products and home appliances such as furniture and parts, computers and parts, radios and TV receivers and parts, microwave ovens, refrigerators and parts, air conditioners and parts, and telephones and parts; Covid-19 prevention and medical products such as medical devices; and pharmaceutical products.

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