Thailand to launch first special economic zone in northern Tak province

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Thailand will launch its first special economic zone located in the country's north this year to help boost trade and attract investors keen to set up logistics and supply chain networks, the country's deputy transport minister said on Monday.

Located in Tak province, 420km north of Bangkok, the zone is part of the military government's plans to develop seven special economic areas nationwide by 2016 in a bid to revive the economy following a May putsch.

The cost of constructing the seven special economic zones has been put at 10.54 billion baht over the next two years, said deputy transport minister Arkhom Termpitayapaisit, who is also secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB). "The prime minister has said investment is a high priority this year. At the moment the area with the highest capability is Mae Sot, in Tak province," Arkhom told reporters, giving no further details.

The Thai border town of Mae Sot, often referred to as the gateway between Thailand and neighbouring Myanmar, is a trade hub for gems, wood and agricultural products.

Arkhom said Thai firms, including Charoen Pokphand Group (CP), Thailand's largest agribusiness conglomerate, have expressed interest in setting up in the Tak special economic zone.

The military seized power on May 22 in a bid to end months of unrest, including political street protests that helped to oust the government of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Despite a return to calm, Thai exports have been weak and consumption, which accounts for half of the economy, has been curbed by record-high household debt levels and shaky consumer confidence.

The government said it is banking on infrastructure projects to lift growth and has said it wants to boost border trade with neighbours Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

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