Focus on Laos-China rail amid fruit export hopes

Focus on Laos-China rail amid fruit export hopes

A train is ready on the station during the handover ceremony of the high-speed rail project linking the Chinese southwestern city of Kunming with Vientiane, in Vientiane, Laos, December 3, 2021. REUTERS

Thailand looks set to negotiate with the Lao and Chinese governments for closer logistic and freight transport cooperation through the Laos-China high-speed train project, in the hope that it will boost fresh fruit exports.

Speaking after visiting the customs checkpoint at the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge in Nong Khai province and meeting with the northeastern private sectors and representatives of the Thai Chamber of Commerce on Monday, Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit said the logistics and freight transportation cooperation, if achieved, would also help raise overall cross-border trade between Thailand and Laos, as well as China.

The ministry has been working on the “border trade strategy” to cope with the impact of the Laos-China high-speed train project, which opened on Dec 3, 2021, and find ways to boost exports and the country’s cross-border trade, Mr Jurin said.

Last year the Thailand-Laos border trade volume tallied almost 200 billion baht, an increase of 12.58% from a year before. Of the total, exports from Thailand accounted for 112.437 billion baht, up 20.13% from 2020, resulting in a trade surplus worth 31 billion baht.

Mr Jurin also pledged to make the best use of the Laos-China high-speed railway to transport more products.

China currently allows the transportation of only goods related to ore, rubber and cassava through the high-speed railway.

“We would like to negotiate with the Chinese government to allow the transport of Thai fruits in the coming harvesting season between March and May this year,” said Mr Jurin.

Late last month the Thai government set up a working panel, proposed by the Transport Ministry, to better coordinate with transport authorities in Laos on plans to build a railway linking the two neighbours.

This is part of a high-speed railway project linking Thailand’s rail system with the Laos-China Railway, which connects Kunming in China’s Yunnan province with Vientiane, the capital of Laos.

In Thailand, the project is divided into three phases: the Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima section covering 253 kilometres, the Nakhon Ratchasima-Nong Khai section (356km), and the Nong Khai-Vientiane section (16km).

Aat Pisanwanich, director of the Center for International Trade Studies at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, recently warned that the new railway may pave the way for an influx of Chinese imports such as fresh fruit, vegetables and other products, resulting in a higher trade deficit with China.

Mr Aat proposed that Thailand speed up its construction of infrastructure such as distribution centres, dry ports, or a second bridge linking Nong Khai and Laos.

The country should also have a traceability system for agricultural export products to build up consumer confidence, he said.