As a representative of Cornerstone International Office in Thailand, our Managing Director Richard Jackson has written "Thailand: National Outlook 2023", which sheds light on the country's economic recovery from the pandemic.
Thailand’s economy is coming back after the covid pandemic. Analysts project the economy will return to pre-covid levels by the end of 2023. A strong tourism recovery is underway, and there has already been a steady increase in infrastructure investment.
The global economic headwinds we are currently experiencing will impact Thailand’s exports: 2023 will be a difficult year for the Supply Chain and Logistics sector. Observer remain optimistic that Thailand will continue to attract foreign investment because it is a global hub for key industries that supply important global supply chains.
We are seeing a steady recovery, but it is uneven.
Thailand’s GDP growth is projected to be 3.5-3.8 percent this year. This is a continuation of a recovery that saw GDP grow by 1.4 percent and 3.2 percent in 2021 and 2022, respectively. The country’s GDP contracted by more than 6 percent in 2020.
Exports make up roughly 60 percent of Thailand’s GDP, but global economic jitters are already impacting export volumes. Covid actually boosted to the Logistics industry, but now that boost is over and affecting shipping prices. This could be the start of a rough time for logistics companies, as export volumes are expected to drop 10-15%. From November to December 2022, we saw the value of exports from Thailand reduced, from 22.4 to 21.7 billion USD.
Tourism made up 19 percent of Thailand’s pre-covid GDP; now it is hovering around 10 percent. Last year, Thailand welcomed over 10 million foreign tourists; twice as many are expected in 2023. However, a complete recovery of the tourism sector is dependent on a continued increase of Chinese arrivals.
The agriculture sector is picking up: in 2022, agricultural trade increased by 20 percent, making Thailand the 13th-largest exporter of agricultural products in the world.
Thailand is still struggling with inflation, which peaked at 8 percent last year; it’s now around 5 percent. The problem is not merely the rate of inflation: the prices of daily staples like cooking oil, rice, eggs, & pork means real hardship for the working class. Add rising oil prices to the mix, and inflation could add to political problems, and present a barrier to full economic recovery.
ALL EYES ARE ON CHINA
Thailand’s fortunes depend in large part on what happens in China this year. Political and economic developments in China will affect Chinese tourism and consumer demand for Thai exports.
There are three main ways that the Thai economy benefits from dynamics in the Chinese economy: tourism, factory relocation, and the post-covid increase in China’s domestic consumer spending.
Consumer Electronics, Electric Vehicles (EVs), Biotech, and Aerospace are the main industries benefitting from the relocation of Chinese factories.
Global supply chains that are overdependent on products made in a single country have proven to be extremely vulnerable. Multinational manufacturers – and Chinese firms themselves – have expanded, or are planning to establish new production and export hubs in Southeast Asia.
Thailand is a beneficiary of this trend, especially the electronics and automotive industries. Since 2018, Thailand has been the second-most popular destination for factory relocations from China to Southeast Asia, next to Vietnam. The government is actively promoting the kingdom as a modern centre of manufacturing: for auto & EV production, advanced electronics, smart agriculture & food production, renewable energies, healthcare, defence and robotics.
Over 92 percent of Sony’s camera production has been relocated from China to Thailand. From now on, all Sony cameras sold in the US, Japan and Europe will be manufactured in Thailand.
Meanwhile, tourism officials anticipate 25 million foreign arrivals in 2023, a figure that has been revised upward due to the unexpectedly fast pace of economic recovery in China.
The lifting of covid restrictions is also ramping up Chinese demand for imported products, something that may buoy Thai export volumes somewhat.
SECTORS TO WATCH: EV MANUFACTURING
Thailand is making great strides in the EV market. Examples of this development include FoxConn’s JV with the national oil company; Toyota’s announcement of a partnership with CP, one of Thailand’s most influential corporate entities. Other Major Japanese automakers are setting up EV manufacturing bases here; Elon Musk’s Tesla is operating in Thailand as well.
The government is pushing for EVs to constitute 50 percent of domestically manufactured vehicles by 2030. To make EVs more accessible, 24 billion baht (approximately 717 million USD) in subsidies has been earmarked to support EV battery cell production. The current administration also intends to cut excise taxes for battery manufacturers to 1 percent.
PTT, the state-run oil company is setting up an EV charging network infrastructure, with 7,000 outlets planned by 2030. Today there are only 139 charging stations nationwide. PTT inked a JV agreement with Taiwan’s Hon Hai Technology Group earlier this year to manufacture battery-powered electric vehicles (BEVs) in Chonburi.
Chinese firms are also keen to manufacture batteries and EVs in Thailand. Automotive companies such as GWM, MG, BYD and DFSK are selling EVs at a lower price point to try and increase market share. Chinese automakers’ brand reputation has a long way to go, but Chinese firms have signalled they are ready to invest significantly in Thailand operations.
Thai firms are expanding EV operations abroad. The CEO of Energy Absolute, Somphote Ahunai, met with Malaysian premier Anwar Ibrahim in January. The company has a JV plan in motion to produce and distribute electric vehicles, lithium-ion batteries, and charging platforms in Malaysia.
It must be noted that the global semiconductor shortage will likely continue for some time, and could be a short-term obstacle to Thailand's ambitious EV plans.
DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY & EVOLUTION
The tech sector is doing well, but elevated interest rates are reducing the availability of private equity capital that fuelled much of the recent rapid tech growth.
Google, Amazon, and Facebook parent company Meta are cutting headcounts. Digital retailers Lazada and Shoppee are following suit, cutting thousands of jobs in Thailand.
I predict the tech slowdown will impact recruiting for other industries. There may be a reverse migration of talent away from the tech sector, as tech professionals look for more stable, predictable industries in need of their expertise in digital marketing and analysis.
Thailand’s position as a primary technology and innovation hub in Southeast Asia is bound to continue, despite this temporary slowdown in global tech. New long-term residency visas are being offered to foreigners with certain advanced technological skills.
DEI & ESG
Sustainability, gender equity, and DE&I has become even more important to multinational actors, and I think this trend will accelerate. Thailand is at the forefront of developing Southeast Asia’s Green Economy, especially with their EV policy.
Most C-suite executives are now prioritising ESG and DEI, which are now an essential element of corporate policy.
Efforts to end LGBTQ+ discrimination in the workplace is a big issue in the West. Thailand’s culture is more accepting of gay and transgender people, and they are far less likely to experience discrimination in the workplace.
Gender equity in recruitment is making progress in Thailand, as companies make a concerted push to recruit more females proactively for senior leadership roles.
TRENDS & POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS
With international travel returning after covid, the MRO and aerospace industry is primed for growth in the region, especially Thailand. The U Tapao military base near Pattaya has been repurposed as an MRO hub with passenger terminals. Malaysia’s workforce is less skilled, and Singapore is more expensive so I expect Thailand will experience significant growth in the MRO industry, and as a logistics and tourist travel hub.
Soon voters will go to the polls to elect the next Thai prime minister. Investors are hopeful that election results will provide greater clarity and stability, but it’s still unclear who will emerge the victor.
No matter who wins the election, it’s safe to say that Thailand will remain receptive to business. The economy in Thailand has historically been resilient, regardless of domestic politics.
WHAT THIS ALL MEANS FOR RECRUITMENT
Current market conditions call for a renewed focus amongst executive recruiters on their clients’ organisational preparedness. Top leaders should cultivate the acuity needed for rapid adaptation in the event of market disruptions. Risk may need to be taken, ina proactive, calculated fashion, and innovation must be embraced.
During the past two years, 52 percent of our executive placements have been female. We are responding to the increasing demand for DE&I in corporate leadership, and this trend will continue in 2023.
I am seeing a movement towards skills-based assessment in 2023, another key recruitment trend. In response to rapid technology advancement, companies are transforming – this creates the need for new positions at every level. There is a greater need for Data Scientists, Directors of DE&I, and Sustainability Managers, for example. HR & C-Suite leaders need to re-examine the types of talent profiles required for these new roles, and adapt their hiring policies accordingly.
Beside Thailand insight here, you can discover more 36 countries outlook here.
For expert executive recruitment advice, we welcome you to contact JacksonGrant to learn more about how to prepare your leadership for future challenges and success. Our consultants are ready and able to help.