Thailand has been an upper-middle income economy since 2011, and intends to achieve high-income status.
Many donors (including Australia) have moved away from the traditional donor–recipient relation to mutually beneficial partnerships for development outcomes.
Faltering economic growth, falling agricultural prices and ongoing drought still cause poverty and inequality. Although poverty rates have fallen by 60% over the last thirty years, Thailand still had 7.1 million poor people in 2014, 80% of whom lived in rural areas, while 6.7 million were in the vulnerable 20% above the national poverty line.
In April 2016, the Thai Government declared that 74 of the country’s 77 provinces were either drought-stricken or drought-affected. The extended drought severely hit Thailand’s major crops such as rice and sugar and prices rose. Rice export projections fell from 10 million tonnes to 9 million tonnes, given dwindling stockpiles. This increased prices, triggering further inflation. Sugar output also dropped; one million fewer tonnes of refined sugar was produced than expected. Agriculture rebounded at the end of the year.
Agriculture consumes more than 65% of Thailand’s water, so the sector is vulnerable to low rainfall. Estimated total losses from the 2015–16 droughts are $4.4 billion, roughly 0.85% of GDP. The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperation will lend money to farmers to see them through the dry spell. The Thai Government is training farmers to grow less water-intensive crops.
The Thai Government is looking beyond the devastating droughts. The Pracha Rath initiative aims to establish co-operation between the public and private sectors to develop an innovation economy in the next decade. The Pracha Rath initiative supports the development of business clusters, with one focusing on food processing and another dedicated to innovative agriculture and biotechnology. It also promotes greater technology use and scientific advances to produce biodiesel and other value-added products from cassava and sugar cane.
Since 1994, Thailand has established partnerships with donor organisations to help third countries, especially in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. Thailand maintains a strong technical co-operation program that includes development projects, volunteer and expert programs, fellowships, and scholarship and training courses.
ACIAR’s program focuses on:
- implementing the results of earlier projects, to help the poorest farming communities;
- implementing Mekong regional biosecurity systems; and
- managing Mekong fisheries, partnering regionally with Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Australia has a clear national interest in a prosperous and peaceful South-East Asia. Australia pursues a regional economic co-operation and inclusive growth agenda out of its embassy in Thailand. Australia uses its South-East Asia regional aid program to support the ASEAN regional economic integration agenda.
ACIAR’s strategic research interventions also deliver Australian support to regional economic growth. In 2017–18 ACIAR’s research efforts will emphasise:
- livestock biosecurity, particularly improving vaccination and disease management
- progressed collaboration with Thailand partners to extend joint research initiatives with wider regional programs
- plant biosecurity research and administration between Australia and Thailand