Exporters drive big trade gap
First-quarter surplus hits US$4.27 bn as exports increase 18% year on year
Thailand's trade surplus jumped to US$4.27 billion (Bt149 billion) in the first quarter, thanks to a significant year-on-year increase of 18.2 per cent in exports, the Commerce Ministry announced yesterday.
Exports of most industrial goods increased more than 15 per cent, including electronic goods, automobiles, construction materials and medical products.
However, gems, jewellery and garment exports suffered a critical fall last month, because of the stronger baht.
Imports grew only slightly in the first quarter, by 2 per cent to $30.5 billion.
Last month alone, the Kingdom recorded a trade surplus of $2.27 billion. Exports grew a record-breaking 18.4 per cent to $13.1 billion after an increase in all major export sectors.
However, gem and jewellery exports fell 16.5 per cent last month, while garment exports dropped 1.6 per cent, compared with figures for the same month last year.
Thai Gems and Jewellery Traders' Association president Pornchai Chuenchomlada said the significant drop in jewellery exports had exacerbated worries among exporters generally.
Gem and jewellery exports now risk falling short of the 10-per-cent growth target this year, and blame for this lies with the baht's appreciation, he said.
However, a Commerce Ministry source said the fall in gem and jewellery exports resulted from aggressive rises in the price of gold, which is a major jewellery component.
Commerce Minister Krirk-krai Jirapaet expressed concern about the slowing growth in imports, when appreciation of the baht should be increasing demand for imports.
Imports grew only 0.6 per cent to $10.83 billion last month compared with last year's figures. The ministry will closely monitor import growth following last month's poor performance, because slowing imports will bring a future drop in exports, Krirk-krai said.
Nevertheless, the significant export growth in the first quarter prompted the minister to reaffirm that the ministry expected total exports this year to grow 12.5 per cent to $141 billion, in line with its target.
"The ministry is confident exports will reach their target this year despite the appreciation of the baht," he said, adding that exports in the first quarter accounted for 22.8 per cent of the full-year target.
The rise in exports in the first quarter followed improved performance in all sectors except gems and jewellery, including 20.6-per-cent growth in the agricultural sector, 17 per cent in agro-industrial goods and 20.6 per cent in industrial goods.
Exports of farm products - particularly rice, tapioca, frozen food and sugar - rose sharply. The value of rice exports jumped 13.8 per cent year on year in the first quarter, tapioca 52 per cent and food crops 17.2 per cent.
Exports to all markets also increased in the first quarter, with a 12.9-per-cent hike in exports to major markets. Exports to new markets jumped 25.5 per cent. Outstanding performances included a 42.5-per-cent increase in sales to Eastern Europe, a 64.5-per-cent increase to India, a 62.3-per-cent rise to Australia, 35.4 per cent more to Latin America and 20.2 per cent more to China.