(source: Thailand Investment Review, October 2016)
Over the past few decades, the bioeconomy sector has moved to the national agenda in many countries around the world as a response to the current challenges facing today’s global social, environmental, and economic environment in areas such as climate change, food security, and shortages of natural resources.
Bioeconomy as Thailand’s Future Industry
The development of the bioeconomy industry is a key strategic focus in Thailand. Bioeconomy is one of the government’s targeted industries and is part of the five future industries in the new S-curve that aims to create a more sustainable economy to fuel economic growth. The government has also been working with major institutions and the private sector, such as PTT Group and Mitr Phol Sugar Corporation under a Public - Private Partnership (PPP) to create a master plan for developing Thailand’s bioeconomy.
According to the PPP’s working team for bioeconomy led by Dr. Atchaka Sibunruang, Minister of Industry, and Mr. Prasert Bunsumpun, Chairman of PTT Global Chemical (PTTGC), the development of the bioeconomy industry is expected to double the country’s GDP contribution in the next 5-10 years. In addition, it aims to increase the value for sugarcane and cassava by more than THB 300 billion (USD 8.5 billion) and THB 100 billion (USD 2.8 billion) per year, respectively, while reducing carbon dioxide from fossil fuels by 70 million tons.
Thailand as an ASEAN ‘Bio-Hub’
Thailand is making a tremendous effort to transform itself into the ‘bio hub’ of ASEAN. As a first step, the country is putting a significant focus on sustaining its agricultural production upstream and has released its Action Plan for Technological Solutions for Climate Change: the Adaptation of the Agricultural Sector (2015 - 2024). The plan focuses on the development of technologies, such as crop improvement and precision farming, to ensure a sustainable and high-yielding production of agricultural products through the development of in-house R&D, specialists, and basic infrastructure dedicated to the nation’s bioeconomy.
As part of the Bioeconomy roadmap, the Thai government, in collaboration with PTTGC and Mitr Phol, will also invest over THB 100 billion (USD 2.8 billion) to establish the country’s first Biorefinery complex starting in 2018. This complex will serve as an important hub or one stop service that will utilize the upstream production of sugarcane and cassava to create value-added production of biofuels, bioenergy, biochemicals, bioplastics, food/feed ingredients, and biopharmaceuticals.
Strong Growth Prospects for Thailand
Not only does Thailand have one of the world’s richest biodiversities, it also has an abundance of natural resources providing an important competitive advantage for the bioindustry sector.
In addition, Thailand is ASEAN’s biggest biofuel producer, with ethanol and biodiesel production of 3.5 million and 3.3 million liters per day. The 10-year Alternative Energy Development Plan (2015-2036) will also ensure that Thailand will remain in a leadership position, with an aim to increase the share of renewable and alternative energy from biofuel from 7% of total fuel energy use in 2015 to 25% in 2036.
Most importantly, Thailand has the necessary workforce and supporting organizations to support a vibrant bioeconomy industry. Currently, 200,000 science majors graduate every year, with 1,440 plant bleeders and seed technologists, and over 143 industry experts and researchers in the country. Thailand also has a dedicated biotechnology related faculties in over 22 leading academic institutions.
A few examples are the Collaborative Research Center for Bioscience and Biotechnology at Mahidol University, Cassava and Starch Technology Research Laboratory at Kasetsart University, and Biochemical Engineering and Pilot Plant Research and Development Laboratory at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi.
BOI Offers Attractive Incentives
The Thailand Board of Investment (BOI) offers a wide range of tax and non-tax incentives for the bioeconomy industry. Tax-based incentives include the exemption of corporate income tax for up to eight years, with an additional 50% reduction for five years and the exemption of import duties on machinery and raw materials. Non-tax incentives include the permission to own land and visa and work permit facilitation.