1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Americans planning to invest in Thailand are advised to obtain qualified legal advice. Thai business regulations are governed predominantly by criminal, not civil, law. Foreigners are rarely jailed for improper business activities, yet violations of business regulations can carry heavy criminal penalties. Thailand has an independent judiciary and government authorities are generally not permitted to interfere in the court system once a case is in process.
Thailand continues to generally welcome investment from all countries and seeks to avoid dependence on any one country as a source of investment. However, the FBA prescribes a wide range of business that may not be conducted by foreigners without additional licenses or exemptions. The term “foreigner” includes Thai-registered companies in which half or more of the capital is held by non-Thai individuals and foreign-registered companies. Although the FBA prohibits majority foreign ownership in many sectors, U.S. investors registered under the United States-Thailand Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations (AER) are exempt. Nevertheless, the AER’s privileges do not extend to U.S. investments in the following areas: communications; transportation; fiduciary functions; banking involving depository functions; the exploitation of land or other natural resources; domestic trade in indigenous agricultural products; and the practice of professions reserved for Thai nationals.
The Board of Investment (BOI) assists Thai and foreign investors to establish and conduct businesses in targeted economic sectors by offering both tax and non-tax incentives. In recent years Thailand has taken steps to reform its business regulations and has improved processes and reduced time required to start a business from 29 days to 6 days. Thailand has steadily improved its ranking in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report in the last several years and now occupies the 21st position out of 190 countries in the 2019 ranking, trailing only Singapore (2) and Malaysia (12) in the ASEAN bloc. Thai officials routinely make themselves available to investors through discussions with foreign chambers of commerce.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Various Thai laws set forth foreign-ownership restrictions in certain sectors. These restrictions primarily concern services such as banking, insurance, and telecommunications. The FBA details the types of business activities reserved for Thai nationals. Foreign investment in those businesses must comprise less than 50 percent of share capital, unless specially permitted or otherwise exempt.
The following three lists detail FBA-restricted businesses for foreigners.
List 1. This contains activities non-nationals are prohibited from engaging in, including: newspaper and radio broadcasting stations and businesses; agricultural businesses; forestry and timber processing from a natural forest; fishery in Thai territorial waters and specific economic zones; extraction of Thai medicinal herbs; trading and auctioning of antique objects or objects of historical value from Thailand; making or casting of Buddha images and monk alms bowls; and land trading.
List 2. This contains activities related to national safety or security, arts and culture, traditional industries, folk handicrafts, natural resources, and the environment. Restrictions apply to the production, distribution and maintenance of firearms and armaments; domestic transportation by land, water, and air; trading of Thai antiques or art objects; mining, including rock blasting and rock crushing; and timber processing for production of furniture and utensils. A foreign majority-owned company can engage in List 2 activities if Thai nationals or legal persons hold not less than 40 percent of the total shares and the number of Thai directors is not less than two-fifths of the total number of directors. Foreign companies also require prior approval and a license from the Council of Ministers (Cabinet).
List 3. Restricted businesses in this list include accounting, legal, architectural, and engineering services; retail and wholesale; advertising businesses; hotels; guided touring; selling food and beverages; and other service-sector businesses. A foreign company can engage in List 3 activities if a majority of the limited company’s shares are held by Thai nationals. Any company with a majority of foreign shareholders (more than 50 percent) cannot engage in List 3 activities unless it receives an exception from the Ministry of Commerce under its Foreign Business License (FBL) application.
Aside from these general categories, Thailand does not maintain a national security screening mechanism for investment, and investors can receive additional incentives/privileges if they invest in priority areas, such as high-technology industries. Investors should contact the Board of Investment [https://www.boi.go.th/index.php?page=index] for the latest information on specific investment incentives.
The U.S.-Thai Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations allows approved businesses to engage in FBA restricted businesses detailed above in Lists 1, 2, and 3. However, the Treaty does not exempt U.S. investments from restrictions applicable to: owning land; fiduciary functions; banking involving depository functions; inland communications & transportation; exploitation of land and other natural resources; and domestic trade in agricultural products.
To operate restricted businesses as defined by the FBA’s List 2 and 3, non-Thai entities must obtain a foreign business license. These licenses are approved by the Council of Ministers (Cabinet) and/or Director-General of the MOC’s Department of Business Development, depending on the business category.
Every year, the MOC reviews business categories on the three FBA lists. Businesses no longer subject to restrictions include regional office services and contractual services provided to government bodies and state-owned enterprises. In an effort to further reduce obstacles to foreign investment, four business types under List 3, otherwise supervised by specific acts, were removed from the restricted list in 2019 and 2020. Those businesses include telecommunication services for license type 1 (telecommunication business operator without its own network for services); financial centers; aviation/aircraft maintenance; and software development.
American investors who wish to take majority shares or wholly own businesses under FBA’s Annex 3 list may apply for benefits under the U.S.-Thai Treaty of Amity. https://2016.export.gov/thailand/treaty/index.asp#P5_233
The U.S. Commercial Service, U.S. Embassy Bangkok is responsible for issuing a certification letter to confirm that a U.S. company is qualified to apply for benefits under the Treaty of Amity. The applicant must first obtain documents verifying that the company has been registered in compliance with Thai law. Upon receipt of the required documents, the U.S. Commercial Service office will then certify to the Foreign Administration Division, Department of Business Development, Ministry of Commerce (MOC) that the applicant is seeking to register an American-owned and managed company or that the applicant is an American citizen and is therefore entitled to national treatment under the provisions of the Treaty. For more information on how to apply for benefits under the Treaty of Amity, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The World Trade Organization conducted a Trade Policy Review of Thailand in November 2020 (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp500_e.htm). The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) concluded its Investment Policy Review for Thailand in January 2021 (https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/c4eeee1c-en/index.html?itemId=/content/publication/c4eeee1c-en).
The MOC’s Department of Business Development (DBD) is generally responsible for business registration. Registration can be performed online or manually. Registration documentation must be submitted in the Thai language. Many foreign entities hire a local law firm or consulting firm to handle their applications. Firms engaging in production activities also must register with the Ministry of Industry and the Ministry of Labor and Social Development.
A company is required to have registered capital of two million Thai baht per foreign employee in order to obtain work permits. Additionally, foreign companies may have no more than 20% foreign employees on staff. Companies that have obtained special BOI investment incentives may be exempted from this requirement. Foreign employees must enter the country on a non-immigrant visa and then submit work permit applications directly to the Department of Labor. Application processing takes approximately one week. For more information on Thailand visas, please refer to http://www.mfa.go.th/main/en/services/4908/15388-Non-Immigrant-Visa- percent22B percent22-for-Business-and.html.
In February 2018, the Thai government launched a Smart Visa program for investors in targeted industries and foreigners with expertise in specialized technologies. Under this program, foreigners can be granted a maximum four-year visa to work in Thailand without having to obtain a work permit or re-entry permit. Other relaxed immigration rules include having visa holders report to the Bureau of Immigration just once per year (instead of every 90 days) and providing the visa holder’s spouse and children many of the same privileges as the primary visa holder. More information is available online at https://smart-visa.boi.go.th/home_detail/general_information.php and by telephone at +662-209-1100 ext. 1109-1110.
In 2020, Thai companies continued to expand and invest overseas despite the pandemic. These investments primarily target neighboring ASEAN countries, China, the United States, and Europe. A relatively strong domestic currency, rising cash holdings, and subdued domestic growth prospects are helping to drive outward investment. The baht depreciated over 4 percent against the dollar in Q1 2021. Faced with the effects of the pandemic, the government may prioritize domestic investment to stimulate the economy.
Previously, food, ago-industry, energy, and chemical sectors accounted for the main share of outward flows. Purchasing shares, developing partnerships, and making acquisitions help Thai investors acquire technologies for parent companies and expand supply chains in international markets. Thai corporate laws allow outbound investments to be made by an independent affiliate (foreign company), a branch of a Thai legal entity, or by any Thai company in the case of financial investments abroad. BOI and the MOC’s Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP) share responsibility for promoting outward investment. BOI focuses on outward investment in ASEAN (especially Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam) and emerging economies. DITP covers smaller markets.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
The 1966 U.S.-Thai Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations allows U.S. citizens and U.S. majority-owned businesses to engage in business on the same basis as Thai companies (national treatment). The Treaty exempts qualified companies from most of the foreign investment restrictions imposed by Thailand’s Foreign Business Act (FBA). As described above, the Treaty does not exempt U.S. investments from restrictions applicable to owning land; fiduciary functions; banking involving depository functions; inland communications & transportation; exploitation of land and other natural resources; and domestic trade in agricultural products.
In October 2002, the United States and Thailand signed a bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA). The TIFA established a regular government-to-government forum to discuss bilateral trade and investment issues. These have included intellectual property rights, customs, market-access barriers, and other areas of mutual concern.
Thailand has bilateral investment treaties with Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Netherlands, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation (signed, not in force), Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan (signed, not in force), Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe (signed, not in force).
Thailand has free trade agreements (FTAs) with Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, India, South Korea, Peru, Chili, and Hong Kong. As of 2020, Thailand is pursuing FTA discussions with the European Union, Turkey, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom. Thailand belongs to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a regional free-trade and economic bloc comprising a total population of 600 million. ASEAN has free trade agreements with Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Korea, and Hong Kong. ASEAN also has a comprehensive economic partnership with Japan and is pursuing FTA discussions with the EU, Pakistan, and Canada.
Thailand’s Parliament approved ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a free-trade bloc of 15 Indo-Pacific nations expected to take effect in 2021. Thailand has expressed interest in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which entered into force on December 30, 2018. In April 2020, however, Thailand shelved plans to negotiate near-term accession in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. In February 2021 Thailand’s International Economic Policy Committee announced it will review the findings of a nine-month internal study on the costs and benefits of CPTPP membership.
Thailand and the United States concluded a bilateral tax treaty in 1996. The United States and Thailand signed an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) on the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) in 2016. The IGA will enter into force once all steps have been completed by both sides for ratification.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Generally, Thai regulations are readily available to the public. Foreign investors have, on occasion, expressed frustration that draft regulations are not made public until they are finalized. Comments that stakeholders submit on draft regulations are not always taken into consideration. Non-governmental organizations report; however, the Thai government actively consults them on policy, especially in the health sector and on intellectual property issues. In other areas, such as digital and cybersecurity laws, the Thai government has taken stakeholders’ comments into account and amended draft laws accordingly.
U.S. businesses have repeatedly expressed concerns about Thailand’s customs regime. Complaints center on lack of transparency, the significant discretionary authority exercised by Customs Department officials, and a system of giving rewards to officials and non-officials for seized goods based on a percentage of their sales price. Specifically, the U.S. government and private sector have expressed concern about inconsistent application of Thailand’s transaction valuation methodology and the Customs Department’s repeated use of arbitrary values. Thailand’s latest Customs Act, which entered into force on November 13, 2017, is a moderate step forward. The Act removed the Customs Department Director General’s discretion to increase the customs value of imports. I t also reduced the percentage of remuneration awarded to officials and non-officials from 55 percent to 40 percent of the sale price of seized goods (or of the fine amount) with an overall limit of five million baht (USD160,000). While a welcome development, reduction of this remuneration is insufficient to remove the personal incentives given Customs officials to seize goods nor to address the conflicts of interest the system entails. Thai Customs is expected to announce new revisions to the Customs Act in 2021.
Consistent and predictable enforcement of government regulations remains problematic. In 2017, the Thai government launched a “regulatory guillotine” initiative to cut down on red tape, licenses, and permits. The policy focused on reducing and amending outdated regulations in order to improve Thailand’s ranking on the World Bank “Ease of Doing Business” report. The regulatory guillotine project has helped improve Thailand’s ranking and, although making slow progress, is still underway.
Gratuity payments to civil servants responsible for regulatory oversight and enforcement remain a common practice despite stringent gift bans at some government agencies. Firms that refuse to make such payments can be placed at a competitive disadvantage to other firms that do engage in such practices.
The Royal Thai Government Gazette (www.ratchakitcha.soc.go.th) is Thailand’s public journal of the country’s centralized online location of laws, as well as regulation notifications.
International Regulatory Considerations
Thailand is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and notifies most draft technical regulations to the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee and the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Committee. However, Thailand does not always follow WTO and other international standard-setting norms or guidance but prefers to set its own standards in many cases. In October 2015, the country ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, which came into effect in February 2017.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Thailand’s legal system is primarily based on the civil law system with a strong common law influence. Thailand has an independent judiciary that is generally effective in enforcing property and contractual rights. Most commercial and contractual disputes are generally governed by the Civil and Commercial Codes. The legal process is slow in practice and monetary compensation is based on actual damage that resulted directly from the wrongful act. Decisions of foreign courts are not accepted or enforceable in Thai courts.
There are three levels to the judicial system in Thailand: The Court of First Instance, which handles most matters at inception; the Court of Appeals; and the Supreme Court. There are also specialized courts, such as the Labor Court, Family Court, Tax Court, the Central Intellectual Property and International Trade Court, and the Bankruptcy Court.
The Specialized Appeal Court handles appeals from specialized courts. The Supreme Court has discretion whether to take a case that has been decided by the Specialized Appeal Court. If the Supreme Court decides not to take up a case, the Specialized Appeal Court decision stands.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The Foreign Business Act or FBA (described in detail above) governs most investment activity by non-Thai nationals. Other key laws governing foreign investment are the Alien Employment Act (1978) and the Investment Promotion Act (1977). However, as explained above, many U.S. businesses enjoy investment benefits through the U.S.-Thailand Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations (often referred to as the ‘Treaty of Amity’), which was established to promote friendly relations between the two nations. Pursuant to the Treaty, American nationals are entitled to certain exceptions to the FBA restrictions.
Pertaining to the services sector, the 2008 Financial Institutions Business Act unified the legal framework and strengthened the Bank of Thailand’s (the country’s central bank) supervisory and enforcement powers. The Act allows the Bank of Thailand to raise foreign ownership limits for existing local banks from 25 percent to 49 percent on a case-by-case basis. The Minister of Finance can authorize foreign ownership exceeding 49 percent if recommended by the central bank. Details are available at https://www.bot.or.th/English/AboutBOT/LawsAndRegulations/SiteAssets/Law_E24_Institution_Sep2011.pdf.
Apart from acquiring shares of existing (traditional) local banks, foreign banks can enter the Thai banking system by obtaining new licenses. The Ministry of Finance issues such licenses, following a consultation process with the Bank of Thailand. The Thai central bank is currently studying new licenses for digital-only banks, a tool meant to enhance financial inclusion and keep pace with consumer needs in the digital age. Digital-only banks can operate at a lower cost and offer different services than traditional banks.
The 2008 Life Insurance Act and the 2008 Non-Life Insurance Act apply a 25 percent cap on foreign ownership of insurance companies. Foreign boards of directors’ membership is also limited to 25 percent. However, in January 2016 the Office of the Insurance Commission (OIC), the primary insurance industry regulator, notified that Thai life or non-life insurance companies wishing to exceed these limits may apply to the OIC for approval. Any foreign national wishing to hold more than 10 percent of the voting shares in an insurance company must seek OIC approval. With approval, a foreign national can acquire up to 49 percent of the voting shares. Finally, the Finance Minister, with OIC’s positive recommendation, has discretion to permit greater than 49 percent foreign ownership and/or a majority of foreign directors, when the operation of the insurance company may cause loss to insured parties or to the public. OIC launched an insurtech sandbox in 2017 to allow industry to test new products. While OIC has not issued a new insurance license in the past 20 years, OIC is now contemplating issuing new virtual licenses for entrants wishing to sell insurance digitally without an intermediary, and digital licenses for existing insurers wishing to switch to digital sales only. Full details have not yet been announced.
The Board of Investment offers qualified investors several benefits and provides information to facilitate a smoother investment process in Thailand. Information on the BOI’s “One Start One Stop” investment center can be found at http://osos.boi.go.th. A physical office is located on the 18th floor of Chamchuri Square on Rama 4/Phayathai Road in Bangkok.
Competition and Antitrust Laws
Thailand updated the Trade Competition Act on October 5, 2017. The updated Act covers all business activities, except state-owned enterprises exempted by law or cabinet resolution; specific activities related to national security, public benefit, common interest and public utility; cooperatives, agricultural and cooperative groups; government agencies; and other enterprises exempted by the law. The Act broadens the definition of a business operator to include affiliates and group companies, and broadens the liability of directors and management, subjecting them to criminal and administrative sanctions if their actions (or omissions) resulted in violations. The Act also provides details about penalties in cases involving administrative court or criminal court actions. The amended Act has been noted as an improvement over the prior legislation and a step towards Thailand’s adoption of international standards in this area.
The Office of Trade Competition Commission (OTCC) is an independent agency and the main enforcer of the Trade Competition Act B.E. 2560 (2018). The OTCC is comprised of seven members nominated by a selection committee and endorsed by the Cabinet. The Commission has the following responsibilities: advises the government on issuance of relevant regulations; ensures fair and free trade practices; investigates cases and complaints of unfair trade; and pursues criminal and disciplinary actions against those found guilty of unfair trade practices stipulated in the law. The law focuses on the following areas: unlawful exercise of market dominance; mergers or collusion that could lead to monopoly; unfair competition and restricting competition; and unfair trade practices. In November 2020, OTCC approved conglomerate Charoen Pokphand’s (CP Group) USD 10 billion acquisition of retail giant Tesco Lotus. Academics and consumer groups claim this merger would allow CP Group to hold more than 80 percent market share of Thailand’s wholesale and retail sector in some provinces, which would be non-compliant with the Trade Competition Act that aims to prevent any operator from holding more than 50 percent of the market share in any sector.
The Thai government, through the Central Commission on Price of Goods and Services, has the legal authority to control prices or set de facto price ceilings for selected goods and services, including staple agricultural products and feed ingredients (such as, pork, cooking oil, wheat flour, feed wheat, distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGs), and feed quality barley), liquefied petroleum gas, medicines, and sound recordings. In February 2020, the government added surgical masks, polypropylene (spunbond) for surgical mask production, alcohol for hand sanitizer, and wastepaper or recycled paper to the price-controlled products list. The controlled list is reviewed at least annually, but the price-control review mechanisms are non-transparent. In practice, Thailand’s government influences prices in the local market through its control of state monopoly suppliers of products and services, such as in the petroleum, oil, and gas industry sectors.
Expropriation and Compensation
Thai laws provide guarantees regarding protection from expropriation without compensation and non-discrimination for some, but not all, investors. Thailand’s Constitution provides protection from expropriation without fair compensation and requires the government to pass a specific, tailored expropriation law if the expropriation is required for the purpose of public utilities, national defense, acquisition of national resources, or for other public interests. The Investment Promotion Act also guarantees the government shall not nationalize the operations and assets of BOI-promoted investors.
The Expropriation of Immovable Property Act (EIP), most recently amended in 2019, applies to all property owners, whether foreign or domestic nationals. The Act provides a framework and clear procedures for expropriation; sets forth detailed provision and measures for compensation of landowners, lessees and other persons that may be affected by an expropriation; and recognizes the right to appeal decisions to Thai courts. The 2019 EIP requires the government to return land that was expropriated but has not been used back to the original property owners. However, the EIP and Investment Promotion Act do not protect against indirect expropriation and do not distinguish between compensable and non-compensable forms of indirect expropriation.
Thailand has a well-established system for land rights that is generally upheld in practice, but the legislation governing land tenure still significantly restricts foreigners’ rights to acquire land.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Thailand is a signatory to the New York Convention, which means that investors can enforce arbitral awards in any other signatory country. Thailand signed the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes in 1985 but has not ratified it. Therefore, most foreign investors covered under Thailand’s treaties with investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions that are limited to ICSID arbitration have not been able to bring ISDS claims against Thailand under these treaties.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Thailand is party to bilateral investment treaties with 46 nations. Two treaties – with the Netherlands and United States (Treaty of Amity) – do not include binding dispute resolution provisions. This means that investors covered under these treaties are unable to pursue international arbitration proceedings against the Thai government without first obtaining the government’s consent. There have been two notable cases of investor-state disputes in the last fifteen years, neither of which involved U.S. companies. The first case involved a concession agreement for a construction project filed under the Germany-Thailand bilateral investment treaty. In the second case, Thailand is engaged in a dispute over the government’s invocation of special powers to shut down a gold mine in early 2017.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Thailand’s Arbitration Act of 2002, modeled in part after the UNCITRAL Model Law, governs domestic and international arbitration proceedings. The Act states that “in cases where an arbitral award was made in a foreign country, the award shall be enforced by the competent court only if it is subject to an international convention, treaty, or agreement to which Thailand is a party.” Any arbitral award between parties subject to the New York Convention should thus be enforced. The following organizations provide arbitration services in Thailand: the Thai Arbitration Institute of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Office; Office of the Judiciary; and the Office of the Arbitration Tribunal of the Board of Trade of Thailand. In addition, the semi-public Thai Arbitration Center offers mediation and arbitration for civil and commercial disputes. An amendment to the Arbitration Act that allows foreign arbitrators to take part in cases involving foreign parties came into force on April 15, 2019. Under very limited circumstances, a court can set aside an arbitration award.
Thailand’s bankruptcy law is modeled after that of the United States. The law authorizes restructuring proceedings that require trained judges who specialize in bankruptcy matters to preside. According to the law, bankruptcy is defined as a state in which courts permit the distribution of assets belonging to a debtor among the creditors within the parameters of the law. Thailand’s bankruptcy law allows for corporate restructuring similar to U.S. Chapter 11 and does not criminalize bankruptcy. The law also distinguishes between secured and unsecured claims, with the former prioritized. While bankruptcy is under consideration, creditors can request the following ex parte applications from the Bankruptcy Court: an examination by the receiver of all the debtor’s assets and/or that the debtor attend questioning on the existence of assets; a requirement that the debtor provide satisfactory security to the court; and immediate seizure of the debtor’s assets and/or evidence in order to prevent the loss or destruction of such items.
The law stipulates that all applications for repayment must be made within one month after the Bankruptcy Court publishes the appointment of an official receiver. If a creditor eligible for repayment does not apply within this period, the creditor forfeits his/her right to receive payment or the court may cancel the order to reorganize the business. If any person opposes a filing, the receiver shall investigate the matter and approve, partially approve, or dismiss the application. Any objections to the orders issued by the receiver may be filed with the court within 14 days after learning of the issued order.
Within bankruptcy proceedings, it is also possible to undertake a “composition” in order to avoid a long and protracted process. A composition takes place when a debtor expresses in writing a desire to settle his/her debts, either partially or in any other manner, within seven days of submitting an explanation of matters related to the bankruptcy or during a time period prescribed by the receiver. After the proposal for a composition has been submitted, the receiver calls for a meeting among creditors to consider whether or not to accept the proposal. If the proposal is accepted, the court will approve the composition in order to legally execute the proposal; however, it will only do so if the proposal includes clear provisions for the repayment of debts. Despite these laws, some U.S. businesses complain that Thailand’s bankruptcy courts in practice can slow legislative processes to the detriment of outside firms seeking to acquire assets liquidated in bankruptcy processes.
The National Credit Bureau of Thailand (NCB) provides the financial services industry with information on consumers and businesses. The NCB is required to provide the financial services sector with payment history information from utility companies, retailers and merchants, and trade creditors.
4. Industrial Policies
The Board of Investment:
The Board of Investment offers investment incentives to qualified domestic and foreign investors. To upgrade the country’s technological capacity, the BOI presently gives more weight to applications in high-tech, innovative, and sustainable industries. These include digital technology, “smart agriculture” and biotechnology, aviation and logistics, automation and robotics, medical and wellness tourism, and other high-value services.
The most significant privileges offered by the BOI for promoted projects include: corporate income tax exemptions; tariff reductions or exemptions on imports of machinery used in the investment; tariff-free treatment on imported raw materials used in production for export.
- corporate income tax exemptions; tariff reductions or exemptions on imports of machinery used in the investment; tariff-free treatment on imported raw materials used in production for export.
- permission to own land; permission to bring foreign experts; and visa and work permit facilitation.
Investment projects with a significant R&D, innovation, or human resource development component may be eligible for additional grants and incentives. Moreover, grants are provided to support targeted technology development under the Competitive Enhancement Act. BOI offers a one-stop service to expedite multiple business processes for investors.
For additional information, contact the Office of Board of Investment on 555 Vibhavadi-Rangsit Road, Chatuchak, Bangkok 10900 and telephone at +662-553-8111 or website at www.boi.go.th.
Office of the Eastern Economic Corridor:
Thailand’s flagship investment zone, the “Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC),” spans the provinces of Chachoengsao, Chonburi, and Rayong (5,129 square miles). The EEC leverages the developed infrastructure networks of the adjacent Eastern Seaboard industrial area, Thailand’s primary investment destination for more than 30 years. The Thai government foresees the EEC as a primary investment and infrastructure hub in ASEAN and a gateway to east and south Asia. Among the EEC development projects are smart cities; an innovation district (EECi); a digital park (EECd); an aerotropolis (EEC-A); a medical hub (EECmd); and other state-of-the-art facilities. The EEC is targeting twelve key industries:
- Next-generation automotive
- Intelligent electronics
- Advanced agriculture and biotechnology
- Food processing
- Advance robotics and automation
- Integrated aviation industry
- Medical hub and total healthcare services
- Biofuels and biochemicals
- Digital technology
- Defense industry
- Human resource development
The EEC Act authorized investment incentives and privileges. Investors can obtain long-term land leases of 99 years (with an initial lease of up to 50 years and a renewal of up to 49 years). The EEC Act shortens the public-private partnership approval process to approximately nine months.
The BOI works in cooperation with the EEC Office. BOI offers corporate income tax exemptions of up to 13 years for strategic projects in the EEC area. Foreign executives and experts who work in targeted industries in the EEC are subject to a maximum personal income tax rate of 17 percent.
For additional information, contact the Eastern Economic Corridor Office at 25th floor, CAT Tower, 72 Soi Wat Maungkhae, Charoenkrung Road, Bangrak, Bangkok 10500, telephone at +662-033-8000 and website at: https://eng.eeco.or.th/en.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
The Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT), a state-enterprise under the Ministry of Industry, develops suitable locations to accommodate industrial properties. IEAT has an established network of industrial estates in Thailand, including Laem Chabang Industrial Estate in Chonburi Province and Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate in Rayong Province in Thailand’s eastern seaboard region, a common location for foreign-owned factories due to its proximity to seaport facilities and Bangkok. Foreign-owned firms generally have the same investment opportunities in the industrial zones as Thai entities. While the IEAT Act requires that in the case of foreign-owned firms, the IEAT Committee must consider and approve the amount of space/land bought or leased in industrial estates, in practice, there is no record of disapproval for requested land. Private developers are heavily involved in the development of these estates.
The IEAT currently operates 14 estates, plus 45 more in conjunction with the private sector, in 16 provinces nationwide. Private-sector developers independently operate over 50 industrial estates, most of which have received promotion privileges from the Board of Investment. Amata Industrial Estate and WHA Industrial Development are Thailand’s leading private industrial estate developers. Most major foreign manufacturing investors, including U.S. manufacturers, are located in these two companies’ industrial estates and in the eastern seaboard region.
The IEAT has established 12 special IEAT “free trade zones” reserved for industries manufacturing exclusively for export. Businesses may import raw materials into, and export finished products from, these zones free of duty (including value added tax). These zones are located within industrial estates and many have customs facilities to speed processing. The free trade zones are located in Chonburi, Lampun, Pichit, Songkhla, Samut Prakarn, Bangkok (at Lad Krabang), Ayuddhya, and Chachoengsao. In addition to these zones, factory owners may apply for permission to establish a bonded warehouse within their premises to which raw materials, used exclusively in the production of products for export, may be imported duty-free.
The Thai government also established Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in ten provinces bordering neighboring countries: Tak, Nong Khai, Mukdahan, Sa Kaeo, Trad, Narathiwat, Chiang Rai, Nakhon Phanom, Songkhla, and Kanchanaburi. Business sectors and industries that can benefit from tax and non-tax incentives offered in the SEZs include logistics; warehouses near border areas; distribution; services; labor-intensive factories; and manufacturers using raw materials from neighboring countries. These SEZs support Thai government goals for closer economic ties with neighboring countries and allow investors to tap into abundant migrant labor; however, these SEZs have proven less attractive to overseas investors due to their remote locations far from Bangkok and other major cities.
In 2019, Thai Customs implemented three measures to improve trade and customs processing efficiency: Pre-Arrival Processing (PAP); an “e-Bill Payment” electronic payment system; and an e-Customs system that waives the use of paper customs declaration copies. The measures comply with the World Trade Organizations (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), adopted in February 2016, which requires WTO members to adopt procedures for pre-arrival processing for imports and to authorize electronic submission of customs documents, where appropriate. The measures have also improved Thailand’s ranking in the World Bank’s “Doing Business: Trading Across Borders 2020” index.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
The Thai government does not have specific laws or policies regarding performance or data localization requirements. Foreign investors are not required to use domestic content in goods or technology, but the Thai government has encouraged such an approach through domestic preferences in government procurement proceedings. In March 2021, Thailand announced the “Made in Thailand” initiative, which will direct government agencies to procure at least 60 percent of their goods from local producers.
There are currently no requirements for foreign IT providers to localize their data, turn over source code, or provide access to surveillance. However, the Thai government in 2019 passed new laws and regulations on cybersecurity and personal data protection that have raised concerns about Thai authorities’ broad power to potentially demand confidential and sensitive information. IT operators and analysts have expressed concern with private companies’ legal protections, ability to appeal, or ability to limit such access. IT providers have expressed concern that the new laws might place unreasonable burdens on them and have introduced new uncertainties in the technology sector. As of April 2021, the government is still in the process of considering and implementing regulations to enforce laws on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection. Thailand has implemented a requirement that all debit transactions processed by a domestic debit card network must use a proprietary chip.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Property rights are guaranteed by the Constitution. While the government provides fair compensation in instances of expropriation, Thai policy generally does not permit foreigners to own land. There have been instances, however, of granting such permission to foreigners under certain laws or ministerial regulations for residential, business, or religious purposes. Foreign ownership of condominiums and buildings is permitted under certain laws. Foreigners can freely lease land. Relevant articles of the Civil and Commercial Codes do not distinguish between foreign and Thai nationals in the exercise of lease rights. Secured interests in property, such as mortgage and pledge, are recognized and enforced. Unoccupied property legally owned by foreigners or Thais may be subject to adverse possession by squatters who stay on that property for at least 10 years.
Intellectual Property Rights
Thailand remained on the Special 301 Watch List in 2020 although its single physical market listed in the Notorious Markets Report dropped off in 2020. USTR highlights Thailand’s absence of accession to major international IP treaties, the unauthorized activities of collective management organizations, online piracy from streaming devices and applications, the use of unauthorized software in the public and private sectors, and a continued backlog in pharmaceutical patent applications as the main challenges confronting the country’s protection of intellectual property rights.
The National Committee on Intellectual Property Policy sets Thailand’s overall Intellectual Property (IP) policy. The National Committee is chaired by the Prime Minister with two Deputy Prime Ministers as vice chairs while 18 heads of government agencies serve as committee members. In 2017, this Committee approved a 20-year IP Roadmap to reform the country’s IP system. The Department of Intellectual Property (DIP) is responsible for IP-related administration, including registration and recording of IP rights and coordination of IP enforcement activities. DIP also acts as the secretary of the National Committee on Intellectual Property Policy.
Thailand has a robust legal and enforcement regime for IP rights. Thailand is a member of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). Thailand’s patent regime generally provides protection for most new inventions. The process of patent examination through issuance of patents is slow, taking on average six to eight years. The patenting process may take longer for certain technology sectors such as pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Thailand protects trademarks, traditional marks, and sound marks. As a member of the “Protocol Relating to the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks” (Madrid Protocol), Thailand allows trademark owners to apply for trademark registrations in Thailand directly at DIP or through international applications under the Madrid Protocol. DIP historically takes 10 to 14 months to register a trademark. As Thailand is a member of the “Berne Convention,” copyright works are protected automatically. However, copyright owners may record their works with DIP to establish proof of ownership. Thailand joined the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled in January 2019. Thailand’s Geographical Indications (GI) Act has been in force since April 2004. Thailand protects GIs, which identify goods by their specific geographical origins. The geographical origins identified by a GI must be directly attributable to the reputation, qualities, or characteristics of the good. In Thailand, a registered trademark does not prevent a similar geographical name to be registered as a GI.
As of March 2021, Thailand remained in the process of amending its Patent Act to streamline the patent registration process, to reduce patent backlog and pendency, and to help prepare for accession to the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs. Furthermore, Thailand has increased the number of examiners to reduce the patent backlog. Thailand is also amending its Copyright Act to prepare for accession to the WIPO Internet Treaties. To address the use of unlicensed software in the public sector, Thailand adopted guidelines in November 2020 on the government acquisition of legitimate software. DIP recently adopted a new system of voluntary registration of copyright (collective management) agents to curb illegal activities of rogue agents. To register, an agent must meet certain qualifications and undergo prescribed training. The roster of registered agents along with associated licensed copyrights is available on the DIP website. Thailand also organized an MOU in January 2021 between internet platforms, DIP, and rightsholders, to streamline the process of removing IP-infringing and counterfeit goods from the country’s most popular online marketplaces.
Thailand maintains a database on seizures of counterfeit goods that is updated monthly (https://www.ipthailand.go.th/en/statistics). In 2020, the Royal Thai Police conducted 1,685 raids and seized 330,607 items, the Department of Special Investigation conducted four raids on trademark violations resulting in 512,621 items being seized, and the Customs Department had 1,541 seizures that stopped 52,517,596 IP-infringing items from entering Thailand.
Thailand’s Central Intellectual Property and International Trade Court (CIPIT) is the court of first instance that has the jurisdiction over both civil and criminal intellectual property cases and the appeals from DIP administrative decisions. The Court of Appeal for Specialized Cases hears appeals from the CIPIT.
For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see the DIP website at https://www.ipthailand.go.th/en/ and WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
Thailand’s 52 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have total assets of USD 523.5 billion and a combined gross income of USD 159.3 billion (end of 2019 figures, latest available). In 2020, they employed 249,400 people, or 0.65 percent of the Thai labor force. Thailand’s SOEs operate primarily in-service delivery, in particular in the energy, telecommunications, transportation, and financial sectors. More information about SOEs is available at the website of the State Enterprise Policy Office (SEPO) under the Ministry of Finance at www.sepo.go.th .
A 15-member State Enterprises Policy Commission, or “superboard,” oversees operations of the country’s 52 SOEs. In May 2019, the Development of Supervision and Management of State-Owned Enterprise Act B.E. 2562 (2019) went into effect. The law aims to reform SOEs and ensure transparent management decisions. The Thai government generally defines SOEs as special agencies established by law for a particular purpose that are 100 percent owned by the government (through the Ministry of Finance as a primary shareholder). The government recognizes a second category of “limited liability companies/public companies” in which the government owns 50 percent or more of the shares. Of the 52 total SOEs, 42 are wholly owned and 10 are majority-owned. Three are publicly listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand: Airports of Thailand Public Company Limited, PTT Public Company Limited, and MCOT Public Company Limited. By regulation, at least one-third of SOE boards must be comprised of independent directors.
Private enterprises can compete with SOEs under the same terms and conditions with respect to market share, products/services, and incentives in most sectors, but there are some exceptions, such as fixed-line operations in the telecommunications sector.
While SEPO officials aspire to adhere to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs no level playing field exists between SOEs and private sector enterprises, which are often disadvantaged in competing with Thai SOEs for contracts.
Generally, SOE senior management reports directly to a line minister and to SEPO. Corporate board seats are typically allocated to senior government officials or politically affiliated individuals.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
The Thai government has committed to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP). Thailand has two national plans for responsible business conduct. The 4th National Human Rights Plan (2019-2022) sets a framework on human rights for government agencies, the private sector, and civil society to reduce the incidence of human rights violations.
In October 2019 Thailand’s Cabinet adopted the country’s first National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (NAP on BHR), based on UNGP. The NAP aims to prevent adverse effects of business operations on human rights. The plan identifies four priority areas: 1) labor; 2) community, land, natural resources, and environment; 3) human rights defenders; and 4) cross border investment and multinational enterprises. The Department of Rights and Liberties Protection at the Ministry of Justice is the lead agency. The Global Compact Network of Thailand opened a Business and Human Right Academy in 2020 to raise awareness in the private sector.
There are several local NGOs that promote and monitor responsible business conduct. Most such NGOs operate without hindrance, though a few have experienced intimidation as a result of their work. International NGOs continue to call on the Thai government and Thai companies to act more responsibly with respect to human and labor rights.
Thailand has not ratified the Montreux Document on Private Military and Service Companies.
In March 2020 the Thai Labor Minister signed an MOU with 13 private industry associations for prevention and elimination of child labor and forced labor in sectors including shrimp-farming, sugarcane, fisheries, and garments – all sectors identified as high risk in the U.S. Department of Labor’s TDA report.
Department of State
- Country Reports on Human Rights Practices;
- Trafficking in Persons Report;
- Guidance on Implementing the “UN Guiding Principles” for Transactions Linked to Foreign Government End-Users for Products or Services with Surveillance Capabilities and;
- North Korea Sanctions & Enforcement Actions Advisory
Department of Labor
Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Thailand 104th out of 180 countries with a score of 36 out of 100 in 2020 (zero is highly corrupt). According to some studies, bribery and corruption are still problematic. Despite increased usage of electronic systems, government officers still wield discretion in the granting of licenses and other government approvals, which creates opportunities for corruption. U.S. executives with experience in Thailand often advise new-to-market companies that it is far easier to avoid corrupt transactions from the beginning than to stop such practices once a company has been identified as willing to operate in this fashion. American firms that comply with the strict guidelines of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) are able to compete successfully in Thailand. U.S. businesses say that publicly affirming the need to comply with the FCPA helps to shield their companies from pressure to pay bribes.
Thailand has a legal framework and a range of institutions to counter corruption. The Organic Law to Counter Corruption criminalizes corrupt practices of public officials and corporations, including active and passive bribery of public officials. The anti-corruption laws extend to family members of officials and to political parties.
Thai procurement regulations prohibit collusion amongst bidders. If an examination confirms allegations or suspicions of collusion among bidders, the names of those applicants must be removed from the list of competitors.
Thailand adopted its first national government procurement law in December 2016. Based on UNCITRAL model laws and the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement, the law applies to all government agencies, local authorities, and state-owned enterprises, and aims to improve transparency. Officials who violate the law are subject to 1-10 years imprisonment and/or a fine from Thai baht 20,000 (approximately USD 615) to Thai baht 200,000 (approximately USD 6,150).
Since 2010, the Thai Institute of Directors has built an anti-corruption coalition of Thailand’s largest businesses. Coalition members sign a Collective Action Against Corruption Declaration and pledge to take tangible, measurable steps to reduce corruption-related risks identified by third party certification. The Center for International Private Enterprise equipped the Thai Institute of Directors and its coalition partners with an array of tools for training and collective action.
Established in 2011, the Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand (ACT) aims to encourage the government to create laws to combat corruption. ACT has 54 member organizations drawn from the private, public, and academic sectors. Their signature program is the “Integrity Pact,” run in cooperation with the Comptroller General Department of the Ministry of Finance, and based on a tool promoted by Transparency International. The program forbids bribes from signatory members in bidding for government contacts and assigns independent ACT observers to monitor public infrastructure projects for signs of collusion. Member agencies and companies must adhere to strict transparency rules by disclosing and making easily available to the public all relevant bidding information, such as the terms of reference and the cost of the project.
Thailand is a party to the UN Anti-Corruption Convention, but not the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. Thailand’s Witness Protection Act offers protection (to include police protection) to witnesses, including NGO employees, who are eligible for special protection measures in anti-corruption cases.
Resources to Report Corruption
International Affairs Strategy Specialist
Office of the National Anti-Corruption Commission
361 Nonthaburi Road, Thasaai District, Amphur Muang Nonthaburi 11000, Thailand
Dr. Mana Nimitmongkol
Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand (ACT)
44 Srijulsup Tower, 16th floor, Phatumwan, Bangkok 10330
10. Political and Security Environment
Periodic street protests against the government occurred throughout 2020, though they were generally peaceful and did not result in property damage.
Violence related to an ongoing ethno-nationalist insurgency in Thailand’s southernmost provinces has claimed more than 7,000 lives since 2004. Although the number of deaths and violent incidents has decreased year-over-year, efforts to end the insurgency have so far been unsuccessful. The government is currently engaged in preliminary talks with the leading insurgent group. Almost all attacks have occurred in the three southernmost provinces of the country.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
In 2020, 39.45 million people were in Thailand’s formal labor pool, comprising 59.6 percent of the total population. Thailand’s official unemployment rates stood at 1.5 percent at the end of 2020, significantly more than 1.0 percent the previous year. Unemployment among youth (15-24 years old) is around 5.4 percent, while the rate is only 1.1 percent for adults over 25 years old. Well over half the labor force (53.7 percent) earns income in the informal sector, including through self-employment and family labor, which limits their access to social welfare programs. The National Statistical Office show COVID-19 negatively affected the labor force’s working hours; many people although still employed, work less hours and receive less pay.
The Thai government is actively seeking to address shortages of both skilled and unskilled workers through education reform and various worker-training incentive programs. Low birth rates, an aging population, and a skills mismatch, are exacerbating labor shortages in many sectors. Despite provision of 15 years of free universal education, Thailand continues to suffer from a skills mismatch that impedes innovation and economic growth. Thailand has a shortage of high-skill workers such as researchers, engineers, and managers, as well as technicians and vocational workers.
Regional income inequality and labor shortages, particularly in labor-intensive manufacturing, construction, hospitality, and service sectors, have attracted millions of migrant workers, mostly from neighboring Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. In 2019, the International Organization for Migration estimated Thailand hosted 4.9 million migrant workers, or 10 percent of country’s labor force. Nearly 200,000 workers returned to their home countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although an increasing number of migrant laborers are documented, many continue to work illegally. At the end of 2020, approximately 2.5 million migrant workers had registered with the Ministry of Labor.
Employers may dismiss workers provided the employer pays severance. Where an employer temporarily suspends business, in part or in whole, the employer must pay the employee at least 75 percent of his or her daily wages throughout the suspension period.
Among wage and salary workers, 3.4 percent are unionized and only 34 out of 77 provinces have labor unions. Thai law allows private-sector workers to form and join trade unions of their choosing without prior authorization, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes, although these rights come with some restrictions. Noncitizen migrant workers, whether registered or undocumented, do not have the right to form unions or serve as union officials. Migrants can join unions organized and led by Thai citizens.
In 2020, the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare issued a ministerial regulation on occupational safety, health and working environment for diving work; the regulation sets a minimum age of 18. The Department is in the process of drafting a regulation on fishery worker protection. Additional information on migrant workers issues and rights can be found in the U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report, as well as the Labor Rights chapter of the U.S. Human Rights report.