I will be presenting this paper at the forthcoming 4th International JSA-ASEAN Conference: State and Non-State Actors in Japan-ASEAN Relations and Beyond 2014:
Thai-Japanese Public-Private Sector Relationships: The Case of Special Economic Zones
In order to outflank obstructive non-elected institutions, recent democratically-elected Thai governments have increased their use of the private sector. This may be seen in the case of some privatization ventures and through more open tendering for infrastructure development, as for example in the case of water management projects. A further aspect of this may be found in the governance of special economic zones (SEZs), which are the venues for large amounts of Japanese investment in Thailand and beyond. The floods of 2011 provided confirmation, if any were needed, of the importance of SEZs in global manufacturing and distribution networks. In seeking to reassure Japanese (and other) companies that the closure of the SEzs would not be permitted to recur, the Thai government dealt with companies on an individual basis, which has also been the case with labour market initiatives such as the provision of apprenticeships. Such arrangements can be problematic politically because there are constitutional and administrative regulations concerning the extent and means by which government agencies can enter into agreements with overseas commercial interests. This paper explores the different ways in which arrangements have been made and are or are not permissible and discusses the effectiveness of the current situation and how it might be improved. Focusing on the relationships between the government, the Industrial Estates Authority of Thailand, private sector SEZ management companies and public and private sector Japanese interests, the paper then explores the ways in which SEZs are currently operated and then considers how the reduction of negative externalities can be managed so as to meet the vision of the Eco-Industrial Village concept. Policy recommendations are drawn from this analysis and a future research agenda outlined.