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Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Thailand

FDI in Figures

Global foreign direct investment (FDI) flows in the first half of 2021 reached an estimated USD 852 billion, showing stronger than expected rebound momentum, with an increase of 78% of the partial-year growth rate on the previous year according to UNCTAD’s Investment Trends Monitor released on October 2021. The global FDI outlook for the full year 2021 has also improved from earlier projections. The current momentum and the growth of international project finance are likely to bring FDI flows back beyond pre-pandemic levels. Nevertheless, the duration of the health crisis and the pace of vaccinations, especially in developing countries, as well as the speed of implementation of infrastructure investment stimulus, remain important factors of uncertainty. Other important risk factors, including labour and supply chain bottlenecks, energy prices and inflationary pressures, will also affect final year results. (UNCTAD, October 2021). Covid’s impact on developing markets and shifting investment from China are major trends that will impact foreign investment in 2022.

Foreign direct investment is an important element of Thailand's economic development, and the country is one of the major FDI destinations in its region. However, the global economic crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the country's attractiveness. According to UNCTAD's World Investment Report 2021, FDI flows are FDI has fallen to USD -6 billion, down from USD 3 billion in 2019, partly driven by the sale of Tesco (UK) to a group of Thai investors for USD 10 billion. The stock of FDI stood at USD 272 billion in 2020. Japan and Singapore are by far the largest investors in the country, accounting for just over half of FDI inflows. Hong Kong, the US, the Netherlands, China and Mauritius are also among the top investors. Manufacturing and financial and insurance activities attract almost 70% of all FDI inflows. Investments in real estate, trade and information and communication are also substantial. On the other hand, outward FDI from Thailand has more than doubled to USD 17 billion in 2020 from USD 8 billion in 2019, mainly in financial services and manufacturing in neighbouring countries. Thai companies have actively pursued cross-border M&A purchases (for example, Bangkok Bank acquired Bank Permata in Indonesia for USD for USD 2.3 billion).

Thailand is among the countries with the most reforms in business regulation over the past few years, which have facilitated the setting-up processes and reduced the time to start a business from 29 days to 6 days. The country has improved considerably its ranking in the World Bank's Doing Business, and it occupies 21st position in the last Doing Business 2020 ranking, gaining six positions from the previous year. The rights of borrowers and creditors have been strengthened as well as the system of land administration. The country has taken steps to clarify corporate governance, ownership and control structures by enacting legislation requiring companies to appoint independent members of the board of directors and to establish an audit committee. Thailand continues to offer more incentives to invest in advanced technologies, innovative activities and research and development through the Investment Promotion Act, and the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) Act, which offers benefits to investors in this zone (tax subsidies, right to land ownership, issuing of visas), should provide further support to FDI flows in the upcoming years. The junta's continuing grip on power has reassured many foreign investors previously deterred by potential instability. Growing regional competition risks, however, risk to diminish Thailand's attractiveness as an investment destination.

The latest United Nation Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Trends Report provides additional information on FDI in Thailand and Asia-Pacific in 2021 and 2022.

 
Foreign Direct Investment 201820192020
FDI Inward Flow (million USD) 11,1443,063-6,100
FDI Stock (million USD) 228,573259,830271,827
Number of Greenfield Investments* 18914371
Value of Greenfield Investments (million USD) 7,1864,6461,983

Source: UNCTAD, Latest available data

Note: * Greenfield Investments are a form of Foreign Direct Investment where a parent company starts a new venture in a foreign country by constructing new operational facilities from the ground up.

 
Country Comparison For the Protection of Investors Thailand East Asia & Pacific United States Germany
Index of Transaction Transparency* 10.0 5.9 7.0 5.0
Index of Manager’s Responsibility** 7.0 5.2 9.0 5.0
Index of Shareholders’ Power*** 9.0 6.7 9.0 5.0

Source: Doing Business, Latest available data

Note: *The Greater the Index, the More Transparent the Conditions of Transactions. **The Greater the Index, the More the Manager is Personally Responsible. *** The Greater the Index, the Easier it Will Be For Shareholders to Take Legal Action.

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What to consider if you invest in Thailand

Strong Points

Advantages for FDI:

  • The Thai economy's strengths lie primarily in its diversity: agriculture (40% of world production of natural rubber but also rice, sugarcane, and fruits), industry (automotive, food processing electronics ), services and tourism are highly developed. 
  • The workforce is inexpensive, skilled and above all diversified. 
  • The country's location in the heart of Asia makes it a gateway to Southeast Asia and the Greater Mekong Basin region, where new emerging markets have great economic potential. 
  • Government policy is generally in favour of investment and encourages free trade: there are, for example, no restrictions in the manufacturing sector or export conditions, just as there are many government agencies helping foreign and domestic investors.
Weak Points

Weaknesses in the Thai economy:

  • Lack of infrastructure and innovation
  • Political uncertainty
  • Strong collusion between economic and political circles and conflicts of interest
  • High household debt
Government Measures to Motivate or Restrict FDI
Thailand, the second largest economy in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), is an upper middle-income country with pro-investment policies. The Thai Board of Investment (BOI) grants both tax and non-tax incentives to qualifying investment projects in Thailand, available equally to both Thai and foreign investors.  The incentives include a corporate income tax holiday, machinery and raw materials import duty incentives, and other non-tax incentives.

  • Eight years of corporate income tax exemption (with or without a maximum cap),
  • Five years of corporate income tax exemption,
  • Three years of corporate income tax exemption.

Other incentives also include:

  • Withholding tax exemption for dividend distribution during the tax holiday.
  • 100% foreign ownership in certain businesses reserved under the FBA.
  • Customs duty exemption or reduction for imported raw materials and machinery.
  • Land ownership for foreign companies.
  • Withdrawing or remitting money abroad in foreign currency.
  • Visa and work permit privileges for expatriates.

Other incentives are available for expenditure in these sectors: R&D in technology and innovation, intellectual property acquisition/licensing fees for commercialising technology developed in Thailand, advanced technology training, development of local suppliers with Thai shareholder(s) holding at least 51% of the total shares, product and packaging designs in Thailand, both in-house and outsourced.

Additional area-based incentives for corporate income tax exemptions are provided to qualified investors in the specific areas that fall under the following categories:

  • Decentralisation (activities based in the 20 provinces with the lowest per capita income).
  • Industrial area development (for qualified projects based in industrial estates).
  • Science and technology parks.
  • Eastern Economic Corridor areas.
  • Four provinces on the Southern border and the four districts in Songkhla.

The government launched its Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) development plan in 2017. The EEC is a part of the “Thailand 4.0” economic development strategy introduced in 2016. Many planned infrastructure projects, including a high-speed train linking airports. In support of its “Thailand 4.0” strategy, the government offers incentives for investments in twelve targeted industries: next-generation automotive; intelligent electronics; advanced agriculture and biotechnology; food processing; tourism; advanced robotics and automation; digital technology; integrated aviation; medical hub and total healthcare services; biofuels/biochemical; defense manufacturing; and human resource development.

The Thai government in 2019 passed new laws and regulations on cybersecurity and personal data protection that have raised concerns given to Thai authorities regarding confidential and sensitive information, introducing new uncertainties in the technology sector.

Bilateral investment conventions signed by Thailand
Thailand has signed 43 bilateral investment treaties. See the list on the Thailand page of the UNCTAD Investment Policy Hub.

Find out more about Investment Service Providers in Thailand on GlobalTrade.net, the Directory for International Trade Service Providers.

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Latest Update: June 2022

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