The first industrial estates were built in Minburi, in the vicinity of Bangkok, with the assistance of the World Bank. Estate management was placed under the responsibility of the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT), while the Board of Investment (BOI) was established to oversee inward investment in the Kingdom and to provide incentives to encourage investors to move their projects to the designated industrial estate spaces.
The initial agglomeration of industrial estates close to Bangkok soon produced various problems, including traffic congestion, public health issues, the growth of slums housing workers and family members and the increasing issue of uneven development and rising income inequalities. Subsequently, therefore, the BOI has adopted a more sophisticated regime of incentives aimed at encouraging investors to locate their projects in all regions of Thailand. This has involved dividing the country into three categories and awarding different levels of incentives for each (see below).
Import duty on machinery – 50% reduction or exemption
Corporate tax exemption – up to 8 years
Import duty on raw or essential materials used in manufacturing of export products – exemption up to 5 years
Double deduction from transportation, electricity and water costs – for Zone 3A (in) and Zone 3B
50 percent reduction of corporate income tax for 5 years – for Zone 3A (in) and Zone 3B
Deduct the project’s infrastructure installation or construction cost – Zone 3
Duty on raw or essential materials used in the manufacturing of domestic sales – up to 75% for Zone 3 (in).
The degree to which the dispersion of industrial estates has been successful may be determined by the number of such estates now existing and their characteristics. The IEAT lists two estates in the northern region (at Lamphun and Pichit) and two more in the southern region (at Songkhla and Pattani), while there are 37 listed in Bangkok and the central region.
This is not particularly surprising because the physical infrastructure, including transportation infrastructure, is greatly superior in the central region and that facilitates access to both suppliers and markets, as well as opportunities to network with stakeholders and potential partners. Although the transportation infrastructure has been improved in recent years as part of the Asian Highway Network project, together with the projected building of a railway network using Chinese capital, it is likely to be some years before the cost/return equation makes it logical to relocate away from the centre and towards peripheral areas.
An emphasis on regional income inequalities has become a more prominent part of the political discourse since the election of the Thai Rak Thai government in 2001 and intensified as part of the protests against the 2006 military coup and subsequent military violence against pro-democracy protestors in Bangkok. This resulted in all leading parties in the 2011 general election proclaiming policies that would increase the minimum wage for all workers and improve the quality of life in different ways for people throughout the country. The extent to which these manifesto promises will eventually be brought in practice remains to be seen.