Thai exports fell by nearly 9% in January, their worst drop in more than four years as economic woes continue to pile up on the kingdom’s military rulers, government figures released on February 25 showed.
Once one of Southeast Asia’s most vibrant and successful economies, Thailand has struggled with lackluster growth fuelled by more than a decade of political instability and slowing demand for its exports.
The economy grew by just 2.8% last year, one of the region’s slowest rates, in a blow to the kingdom’s junta government, which vowed to kickstart trading following its 2014 coup.
The country’s continued export slump, compounded by the slowdown in key trading partner China, is one of a number of ailments derailing that pledge.
Ministry of Commerce figures showed exports fell by 8.91% year-on-year to $15.7 billion in January, the worst drop since November 2011 and the fourteenth consecutive month of decline.
Imports were also down 12.37% to $15.5 billion.
Thailand’s exports have been declining for much of the last three years. Last year’s total export decline of 5.78% was the worst drop in six years.
However figures showed modest export growth in Thailand’s important auto-parts industry and a significant increase in rice sales for January.
But other key pillars of the export economy showed decline including rubber, plastics, computer parts and chemicals.
Former army chief turned prime minister General Prayut Chan-O-Cha has vowed to turn the economy round but his government’s policies, which include ramped up public spending, have so far borne little fruit.
Military control, which has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in rights abuses, also appears to have put off overseas interest, with applications for foreign direct investment slumping 78% in the first 11 months of 2015.
Domestically, the economy is also beset by high household debt and low consumer confidence.
Tim Leelahaphan, a Bangkok-based economist with Maybank, said vegetable and fruit exports were one of the few farming sectors to show a bump, up nearly 20% for January.
He added that Thailand’s military government appeared to be less concerned with exports. “We note that exports that are a result of global issues are not the main focus of the current government’s economic team, which is trying to stimulate domestic demand,” he wrote in a note to clients.