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US investors eye port construction projects 

3 April 1999

Source: The Nation By Nitasara Srihanam

AMERICAN investors are eyeing investment opportunities in port construction in Thailand due to government's policy of boosting exports.

Speaking at the seminar on ''Asia Transport 1998'' organized by the US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) and the Transport and Communications Ministry Tuesday, Peter A Bowe, president of Ellicott International, a US port construction company, said that foreign investors see plenty of opportunities for investment in the region due to the depreciation of some Asian currencies.

Many US investors are participating in the seminar and most of them seem to be interested in several transportation projects in Asia.

Asia Transport Project 1998 is supported by the USTDA with the aim of developing infrastructure so as to increase international trade between US and Asian countries. The USTDA also backed the feasibility study on the project. The US Exim Bank, World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and other private banks have supported the project, according to Nancy D Frame, deputy director of USTDA.

More than 200 participants from Asean countries, South Korea and the US are taking part in the seminar, which began Tuesday and will run until tomorrow. Eighty-five US companies, both big and small, such as General Electric Co, De Leuw Cather International, Raythoon, Dames & Moore Group, Wilbur Smith Association, Ellicott International and Louis Berger International are participating in the seminar and have shown keen interest in local transportation projects.

Regarding Thailand, Bowe said port construction works, such as the Southern Seaboard project, are potential investment projects because most Thai exporters sell their goods by ocean shipment.

Bowe added that although several Asian countries are facing financial crises, most investors still see the crises as investment opportunities because the currency depreciation will lower the cost of investment.

Frame said that the Asia transportation project feasibility study shows 35 projects in Asia requiring an investment of Bt52 billion.

These projects will probably boost trade and all are expected to be completed within three to five years, though some may take longer than expected.

The conference is aimed at developing infrastructure, including ports, road and rail, linking the infrastructure of Asean countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei and South Korea. Projects such as the land bridge between Penang and Songkhla, the urban transit system in the Philippines, the Southern Seaboard in Thailand and the third airport terminal in Singapore are cited as examples.

William H Itoh, the US ambassador to Thailand, said that the seminar will provide a chance for Asian countries to learn about US technology. He gave an assurance that US is strongly committed to Thailand in these trying times and will continue to help Thailand recover. Development of infrastructure is a key to strengthening the Thai economy in the future, he suggested.

Itoh added that though infrastructure investment is a low-profit sector in that it takes a long time for profits to filter back, he believed that US companies would still be keen in investing in Thailand. Moreover, most US companies are very competitive and have high technical skills.

Suthep Thaugsuban, Transport and Communications Minister, said after inaugurating the seminar that his ministry had invited American investors to participate in several infrastructure projects, such as the inter-city motorway, the Laem Cha Bang Port development phase 2, the electric car project and the Southern Seaboard development project. Moreover, Thailand will seek American investment in rail, road, port and airport projects.

Suthep revealed that US investors were the most important target for Thailand because other Asian countries were also suffering from the economic downturn.

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