UPDATE 2-Thailand approves $ 11.3 billion in support measures, sees slow economic recovery

* Measures include soft loans, asset storage

* Subsidies intended to stimulate domestic travel

* The economy has returned to pre-pandemic levels in the third quarter of 2022

* Tourism could take 4 to 5 years to normalize (Redesigns, adds comments from the head of the central bank, details)

BANGKOK, March 23 (Reuters) – The Thai cabinet on Tuesday approved financial measures worth 350 billion baht ($ 11.31 billion) to help businesses cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic while the economy will take time to recover, government officials said.

The tourism-dependent economy contracted 6.1% last year, its deepest collapse in more than two decades, as tourism was devastated by travel restrictions and other national impacts.

The approved measures included 250 billion baht ($ 8 billion) in soft loans and an additional 100 billion baht for a so-called “asset storage” program to support debtors unable to repay their loans.

Assistance to debtors includes the transfer of collateral assets for debt settlement and granting debtors the right to lease their assets or buy them back at a later date.

Coronavirus outbreaks at home and abroad have had “a widespread and longer-than-expected impact,” making it difficult for businesses to access cash and capital, Finance Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said in a briefing .

In a separate briefing, central bank governor Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput said the economy is expected to return to pre-COVID-19 levels in the third quarter of 2022, but tourism could take much longer.

“But the return of the GDP (gross domestic product) does not mean that everything will return to normal. People’s jobs and incomes are not coming back yet, ”he said, adding that it could be four to five years before Thailand sees 40 million tourists per year, the volume of 2019. .

Current support measures are insufficient and more is needed, Sethaput said. He suggested earlier that economic growth this year could be at “2% higher levels.”

The cabinet also agreed on Tuesday to offer a co-payment program worth 5 billion baht and extend a current grant to boost domestic travel in the absence of foreign visitors.

The collapse of the tourism sector has continued since last April’s travel restrictions that saw foreign arrivals drop 99.8% in January from the previous year. ($ 1 = 30.94 baht) (Report by Orathai Sriring, Kitiphong Thaichareon and Satawasin Staporncharnchai edited by Ed Davies, Martin Petty)

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