What role does the Ministry of Science and Technology play in promoting innovation and start-ups across Thailand?
Thailand has realized it needs to be strategic. We have to provide an ecosystem that is conducive to investment and develop Thailand as the gateway for manufacturing and trading with the region and beyond. Given that we have a number of competitive advantage factors, including our rich agricultural output, substantial human resources—a 70-million strong population—and strategic location, we are well positioned to make use of the growing opportunities in the region. Moving forward, innovation across all industries is vital for our growth, including manufacturing, start-ups, tourism, water management, and so on. In this sense, government policy and instruments are important in leading and facilitating innovation. For example, in the start-up movement, which is still relatively new in Thailand, the government will assist as much as possible this year and in 2017 before the private sector comes in. In April, we held the Start-up Thailand 2016 event, from which we realized we have potential scattered across our economy and the role of the government is to set up an ecosystem to help them launch and grow from an early age. We also work closely with the Ministry of Finance to introduce a number of fresh tax incentives for start-ups, and are in the process of establishing a start-up grant fund to fill in the gaps until the private sector moves in.
What are the ministry's goals in terms of national spending on R&D?
Our current R&D expenditure for 2015 is 0.48% of GDP; however, in 2016 we would like to almost double this to 0.8%, which is a significant jump. Personally, I will try to push this figure to 1% because statistically, most developed economies go beyond 1%. After 1%, this process becomes much easier and smoother; it has the momentum to also boost a country that borrows or copies others' technology into a country that protects its intellectual property. Having said that, we also recognize that we need to get the private sector to contribute 70% of the 1%; this is our policy, and we put in a great deal of effort to encourage and facilitate our private sector to invest. This can be done through taxation, where we have a scheme in which we provide 300% tax incentive for those companies who invest in research—anything that falls into the category of research, development, or innovation, and across all sectors. In the past, it was only R&D but now we have expanded to include innovation as well. The target for the private sector is 70%, and we work with BOI, whose strategies and privilege offer the largest benefits to companies who do research and innovation.
How would you categorize Thailand's international outlook from the ministry's perspective?
The outlook is extremely bright. The countries that we met and discussed with did not talk about a trading partnership but about establishing a strategic partnership, which is important to us. We do not just deal with trading; we talk about how we can cooperate in the long run to ensure good mobility between the countries and healthy partnership in sectorial trade and industries. We look to boost our international cooperation, particularly in the fields of transportation infrastructure and digital connectivity as they are in line with the priorities of this government. However, each country has its specific characteristics and strategic interests for us. For example, in Russia, we focus primarily on collaborating on the space program or using nuclear for peace such as for medical and industrial goods. The Chinese, on the other hand, are keen to help us develop our start-ups and open labs, as well as issues such as food security. In every country that we visit, through collaboration in research and innovation, we can help our partner countries to expand to CLMV markets, and given the growth potentials in the region, this presents a huge opportunity to them.