Export Capacity Building in Thailand and Japan’s Cooperation
Yasutami Shimomura, Hosei University, Japan
This project attempts to examine the process of export capacity strengthening in
Thailand through Japan’s economic cooperation in the 1980s, highlighting the synergy
effects of two crucial elements: a) the impacts of the first White Paper on the
Restructuring of Japanese-Thai Economic Relations, and b) the role of Eastern
Seaboard Development Plan.
There is an idea widely shared in the international aid community: attracting foreign
direct investment paves a road to market based and outward oriented industrialization.
This is not wrong but simplistic. For successful transformation of industrial and export
structure, a developing country needs to meet among others two requisites or two types
of infrastructures (hardware and software). To attract sufficient foreign investors, a
developing country must prepare hard infrastructure, and to make accumulated
investment sustainable, the country must gain soft infrastructure, in other words
various knowledge and skills.
This project attempts to show how Thailand and Japan worked together for meeting
such requisites or gaining sufficient export capacity.
2. Research plan
This project focuses its attention on two crucial aspects which had considerable effects
on building export capacity in Thailand in 1980s.
First, it analyzes what kinds of activities were taken in the Japanese side in response to
the White Paper on the Restructuring of Japanese-Thai Economic Relations, and how
these activities led to stronger software capacity of export. For this purpose, various
public and private documents are to be studied in order to trace the interaction between
Second, it examines the roles of the Eastern Seaboard Development Plan as a hardware
capacity of export. This gigantic regional development plan was composed of two
industrial complexes with deep seaports. One of the purposes was to construct export
bases. The construction was financed mainly by Japan’s aid. The study in this part was
almost completed already.
Note 1: impacts of the White Paper
The first White Paper was prepared by the Thai government and sent to the Japanese
government at the end of 1985. Reflecting expanding trade deficit with Japan and
strong will of Thai side to transform the export structure from primary to sophisticated
manufacturing goods, the White Paper was full of critical remarks on the Thai Japanese
economic relations, and strongly required Japan a) to open market further, b) to shift
direct investment from import substitution to export oriented industries, and c) to
reduce the ratio of contracts with Japanese companies under official development
The Japanese government concerned about the rising anti-Japanese feeling among Thai
people. Therefore, in response to the Thai initiative, it drafted a concerted program for
promoting foreign direct investment and technical transfer. While this was a public
document, it was conducted by broad based actors in public and private sectors, such as
JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization), big trading companies (sogo shosha), and
grass rooted organizations such as unions of craftsman and local chambers of commerce.
New foreign direct investment furnished the Thai economy with competitive production
facilities and modern production management. Technical transfer by various actors
provided valuable knowledge and know-how of marketing, designing packaging etc.,
and made Thai products competitive in international market.
The case of the first White Paper is valuable because of strong ownership by the Thai
side in overcoming constraints. This case is unique because it provoked concerted
activities among trade, investment, and aid in the Japanese side. This case is also
unique, because of the participation of small private organization such as unions of
craftsman and chambers of commerce of small cities in Japan. These grass rooted
organizations sent missions and held seminars usually under the coordination by
JETRO and big trading companies. However it should be stressed that in many cases
they attempted technical transfer to Thai counterparts as volunteers.
Note 2: mission of the Eastern Seaboard Development Plan
The Eastern Seaboard Development Plan was composed of two industrial complexes
with deep seaports (Laem Chabang and Map Ta Put) together with a wide variety of
other facilities. According to the master plan, the estimated total investment amount
was estimated around $4.5 billion (1981 price).
The Laem Chabang was designed for export-oriented and labor intensive industries and
the Map Ta Put for heavy and chemical industries based on natural gas being developed
in the Gulf of Thailand.
The mission of the plan was to tackle two basic problems Thailand was faced with. The
one was to transform leading export goods to manufacturing products. This was one of
the central agenda items of the Fourth and Fifth Five-Year Plan. The other was to
improve the living standard in rural areas, which was a long standing issue since the
Third Five-Year Plan.
Constructing such a huge plan was a controversial issue under economic stagnation
during the first half of the 1980s. There was a split in the opinion in Thailand and
among major donors. The World Bank urged to postpone the project drastically to
reduce fiscal burden, and the Japanese government insisted that the strengthening
competitiveness was urgent task. It was to be noted that the Thai government was
patiently in pursuit of minimizing the cost of the worst case. Again strong ownership is
After the completion, these industrial complexes in particular the Laem Chabang much
contributed to reduce serious bottlenecks in infrastructures in the post Plaza Accord era.