Eastern Economic Corridor – Thailand’s Path towards Regional Hub for Advanced Industries and Logistics

The Thai government has launched Thailand 4.0 initiative to transform its economy by embracing disruptive technologies and moving towards Industry 4.0. To advance economic development, Thailand needs to become an innovation-driven economy, with an emphasis on advanced and knowledge-based industries. The Eastern Economic Corridor project lies at the heart of Thailand 4.0 scheme.

The Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) project is an areabased development initiative, leveraging upon the Eastern Seaboard, Thailand’s main industrial hub since 1980s, where investors have experienced a rewarding investment journey. The EEC project focuses on the 3 Eastern provinces, namely Rayong, Chonburi, and Chachoengsao, with an area of 13,000 square kilometers. The EEC development plan includes the upgrading of existing physical and digital infrastructure and further improvement of social wellbeing. The EEC area is designed to be a regulatory sandbox to facilitate businesses and industries to enhance the country's competitiveness. The EEC development plan has been established with a clear regulatory an governance structure, involving government agencies, private sectors, and specialists in various fi elds. The Eastern Economic Corridor Offi ce is a public agency dedicated to driving EEC development in all aspects. The EEC Offi ce functions as a business facilitator that coordinates closely with other public authorities and private sectors to ensure successful investment projects.

Connectivity through Comprehensive Infrastructure

The advantage of Thailand through its strategic location is further strengthened by EEC development. EEC can serve not only as a connectivity center in ASEAN, but also South East Asia’s gateway to markets in South Asia, the Middle East and Europe through the integration of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. A large-scale investment to upgrade infrastructure in the area is underway. A high-speed rail link between Bangkok and the EEC area is being built and will be completed by 2024. It will provide fast and conven ient journeys, taking less than an hour to travel between international airports of Bangkok and the U-Tapao International Airport in the EEC. Located at the heart of the EEC area, the U-Tapao Airport will be upgraded with a capacity to receive 60 million passengers/year. The airport will also have a commercial gateway, an air cargo terminal, a maintenance repair and overhaul service center (MRO), a free trade zone, and an aviation training center. The upgraded U-Tapao International Airport will be positioned as the regional aviation hub between EEC and major partners in Asia. The two major deep-sea ports in the EEC are also being expanded and upgraded. The phase 3 expansion of the Laem Chabang Port will make it become one of the best seaports in the world using an automated system and advanced full-scale services. The Map Ta Phut Industrial Port phase 3 development will consist of two terminals, namely natural gas and liquid material, and the development area for related industries such as power plants and warehouses. Expected to be completed in 2025, the total capacity of Laem Chabang Port will be 18 million TEU/ year and the Map Ta Phut Port will be able to handle 31 million tons of gas and liquid cargo shipment/year. Coupled with the high-way and rail networks being expanded in the EEC, which will connect industrial zones and logistic centers, the EEC will become a regional logistics and transport hub providing a competitive edge in trade and supply chain management for industries.

Digital Infrastructure

To realize the Thailand 4.0 vision, the EEC will also develop digi tal infrastructure to facilitate the digitization of the Thai economy and industry. Such development will include dig ital government, cyber security, technology innovation, talent development, and suitable legal framework. The Digital Park project in the EEC is being developed to make Thailand a digital hub of ASEAN. As a fl agship project located in the EEC, Digital Park Thailand will serve as an excellent destination for global digital players and innovators in developing digital technology. With pioneered testbeds, state-of-the-art digital technologies, IoT, and AI lab, the Digital Park will house high-tech facilities to support digital businesses in various fi elds such as big data and cloud, smart city platforms, 5G testbeds and applications, cyber security, digital enterprise and startup incubator, as well as digital academy.

Opportunities in Digital Industry

There are abundant investment opportunities in the digital industry in many areas, such as e-commerce, IoT, digital content and cloud computing, as well as those related to Industry 4.0 and smart city. Thailand Industrial Design Center predicts that over 61% of Thailand’s GDP will be digitalized by 2022 and Thailand will achieve US$72 billion in IT-related spending from 2019 through 2022. Thailand has the perfect ecosystem to move toward a digital economy due to its creative industries, ground-breaking ICT infrastructure, and strong customer demand. Development of specialized clusters in these fi elds will contribute to the development of advanced industries like automation and robotics, aerospace, digital businesses, and smart electronics. With the support of the EEC Offi ce and its regulatory sandbox feature, investors will be able to pursue innovative business models that utilize disruptive technologies without prohibitive regulatory constraints. The Eastern Economic Corridor of Innovation (EECi) is another fl agship project aiming to provide supporting an innovation ecosystem for research and development activities and commercialization through collaboration among the government, private-sector organizations, universities, and local communities.

Human Resource Readiness

In the EEC, many multinational corporations have already experienced the resilience and dedication of local workers in this prime location for over 30 years. Under the EEC human resource development scheme, skillful and motivated workers will be built up to be ready to support the businesses. EEC collaborates with related agencies to produce qualifi ed human resources to serve EEC targeted industries. There is also a plan to develop digital manpower that will be crucial to the success of Thailand 4.0. With significant demand being expected in the coming years, the Thai government has launched several human resource development schemes which include apprenticeship-style of vocation education, collaboration between Thai universities and renowned international universities and enterprises, upskilling of current digital manpower, as well as reskilling existing workforce in related fi elds. On a fi nal note, Thailand is entering into an exciting phase of economic transformation. With the EEC being developed to become a connectivity center and a hub for advanced industries, there are ample opportunities for investment and business. The Thai government is committed to ensure that the EEC project is successful. The EEC Offi ce is ready to be a partner and a consultant for foreign investors who wish to do business in the EEC.

Luxmon Attapich

Luxmon Attapich, Ph.D. Eastern Economic Corridor Offi ce of Thailand. She oversees investment promotion and international affairs. Before joining the EEC Offi ce, Luxmon was a Senior Country Economist at the Asian Development Bank where she took care of macroeconomic and policy analysis.