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US PRESIDENT Donald Trump is expected to focus more on trade negotiations that could affect Thailand’s exports as he tries to divert American voters’ attention from a domestic political storm, local academics say.
A book titled “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House”, the latest political attack on Trump, has re-enforced suspicions about his campaign team’s collusion with Russia, said Somchai Phakaphasvivat, a Thai political scientist.
Somchai noted that Steve Bannon, a former top Trump aide, told the book’s author Michael Wolff that a meeting involving a Russian lawyer and Trump campaign officials including Trump’s son Donald Jr, was “treasonous”.
This comes as Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign team and Russia.
Somchai said that while white voters, his political base, may continue to support Trump, there were many controversial issues surrounding the president.
One trick up Trump’s sleeve is that he could play a more active role in international affairs, including putting more pressure on North Korea over the nuclear dispute. The move would have an impact on Thailand, as the US government would continue its campaign to gather support from Asian countries, said Somchai.
The next priority was to counter China’s influence, especially on trade, as China has a large trade surplus with the United States. Trump may seek to get further backing from Asean countries, Japan, South Korea and India.
Veteran economist Sompop Manarungsan shared Somchai’s view, saying that Trump would be more active in global trade issues in order to sway people from domestic politics that have heavily damaged his popularity.
With midterm elections coming up, Trump has to find new things to woo voters otherwise there is a high chance that his Republican party will lose its majority in both Congress and the Senate, said Sompop.
Trump had vowed to review trade agreements, especially with the 16 countries having trade surpluses with the US, but he has not had much time to concentrate on the issue as he has been busy with North Korea and changes to the tax regime. Trump has successfully pushed for drastic tax changes, including cutting the corporate tax rate to 21 per cent from 35 per cent.
Form now on he is expected to push harder in the international arena and China is the main target. If the world largest economy and second largest economy have a dispute on trade, it could have an impact on Asian supply chains, according to Sompop.
Thai exports to grow
“As we expected our exports this year will continue to grow, we should be aware of the impact of US trade policy,” warned Sompop. Both China and the US are among Thailand’s key export markets.
Back home, government spokesman Lt-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd yesterday said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was happy with continued economic expansion and rising consumer confidence in December.
“The Prime Minister says it is possible that the Thai economy will expand 4.2-4.5 per cent or as high as 5 per cent, as projected by University of Thai Chamber of Commerce,” Sansern quoted Prayut as saying.
The Government Savings Bank has forecast an economic growth rate of 4.6 per cent.
Public investment in infrastructure projects will boost growth and the new welfare card will boost consumption, Sansern said.
However, Prayut was worried about lower prices of farm products especially rice, rubber sheet, cassava and maize. These are expected to rise in the second quarter due to the government’s subsidy policy. The government will also be stepping up measures against the import of cassava, said Sansern.
He also revealed that the government will provide more support to 3.5 million poor people whose incomes are lower than Bt30,000 a year. They will be given help to develop their skills, find new jobs domestically or aboard, own houses or have enough income to pay rent, and create their own businesses.