Thai trade slumps alongside tourism as protest violence takes toll

Wednesday, 26 February 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

BANGKOK (Reuters): Thailand announced a slump in trade figures on Tuesday with the biggest drop in imports in more than four years in January, as months of anti-government protests extended their economic toll beyond falling tourism numbers. The protesters, whose disruption of a general election this month left Thailand in political limbo, aim to topple caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and erase the influence of her brother, ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, seen by many as the power behind the government. Weeks of unrest, most of it in the capital, Bangkok, have been interrupted by occasional bombs and gunfire, with one blast killing a woman and a young brother and sister in a busy shopping district on Sunday. Imports fell 15.5% in January from a year earlier, the biggest tumble since October 2009. Imports of computers and parts were down 19% from a year earlier, auto parts off 31.8% and consumer goods 5.3%. Exports dropped 2%. Thailand is a regional hub for global car makers and a major producer of hard disk drives. Everybody is definitely delaying their imports (of consumer products) as most shopping malls are quiet, said Nopporn Thepsitthar, chairman of the National Shippers’ Council. Nobody dares to place big orders. National flag carrier Thai Airways International releases 2013 results on Tuesday and is expected to report a huge loss. It is likely to cite a slump in tourism as one of the factors after the protests began in November. The Thai Hotel Association said this month that occupancy rates in the capital were hovering at around 50%, well below the usual 80% at this time of year. That follows a record year for tourists in 2013 as a whole, with more than 26 million visitors. Tourism accounts for about a tenth of Thailand’s gross domestic product. Visitor numbers rose just 0.06% in January from a year earlier, Tourism Authority of Thailand figures show. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc, which ranks fourth among hotel brands in Thailand, said this month that anti-government protests in Thailand significantly hurt its business in January. At least 20 people have been killed and more than 700 wounded since the protests began in November. It is the worst political violence since 2010, when Thaksin’s supporters paralysed Bangkok for weeks. More than 90 people were killed and 2,000 wounded during that unrest, which ended when Suthep, then a deputy premier, sent in troops.