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publicationMarch 25, 2024

Thailand Systematic Country Diagnostic Update 2024: Shifting Gears - Toward Sustainable Growth and Inclusive Prosperity

Thailand SCD Update 2024

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The Thailand 2024 Systematic Country Diagnostic (SCD) Update outlines the World Bank’s assessment of reform priorities for Thailand’s social and economic development. While the Thailand 2016 SCD remains broadly valid, the current global and domestic environments bring new challenges and opportunities. The COVID-19 pandemic, rising geopolitical tensions, rapid technological advancements, and climate change have exerted substantial pressure on the economy, environment, and population.

Despite this, Thailand has managed to uphold macroeconomic and financial stability, demonstrating responsible economic management. Growth gained momentum in 2022 and 2023; nonetheless, Thailand’s recovery trails behind its ASEAN peers, primarily due to its significant exposure to underperforming global tourism and trade. Moreover, the potential for growth is diminishing as the economy grapples with a cycle of reduced investment, slowing productivity, and an aging population. Progress in poverty reduction is slowing, while income and wealth inequality remain high.

The SCD Update identifies five high level outcomes to help Thailand revitalize growth and become a high-income country by 2037, while also fostering a more equitable society and building a sustainable, climate-resilient economy.

What are the key challenges outlined in the Thailand 2024 SCD?

  • Inadequate human capital: There are several factors that are preventing Thailand from being an inlusive, skills-based, innovation-driven country. These include poor learning outcomes, an ageing population, and sub-optimal female labor force participation. Vulnerable groups are often excluded from accessing resources such as education, healthcare, economic opportunities and social services.
  • An economy that is lagging: Thailand’s productivity growth faces challenges from weak competition and restrictive trade policies in the services sector, hindering business innovation. Dominance by a few large firms and state-owned enterprises further limits competition and efficient resource allocation. Economic progress is hindered by low entry rates for small and medium-sized enterprises, and high household debt.
  • Infrastructure and connectivity gaps: Bangkok is a crucial economic driver for Thailand, however, this has resulted in uneven development with secondary cities facing infrastructure challenges due to financial constraints and centralized planning. The country’s land and sea links face challenges that are hampering domestic and regional connectivity. Thailand’s digital potential is hindered by data usage limitations.
  • Environmental degradation and climate risks: Thailand is vulnerable to climate change because of its long coastlines, fragile agriculture system, and susceptibility to extreme weather events. These vulnerabilities are compounded by natural resource degradation, air and water pollution and waste mismanagement. Beyond immediate concerns, climate change presents substantial long-term macroeconomic implications and social costs that include the loss of lives, food insecurity, and declines in human capital.
  • Weak institutions: Thailand’s institutions need to be reformed to achieve strong, inclusive, and sustainable growth. Fiscal rules and investment bottlenecks are undermining the efficiency of public investment. There are also gaps in accountability and transparency which hinder institutional progress. Institutional reform is a crosscutting ambition, which would allow Thailand to effectively address other socioeconomic challenges.

Five High Level Outcomes for Thailand’s social and economic development

High Level Outcome 1
Strong human capital: Thailand must improve learning outcomes by increasing education spending and optimizing resource allocation. A holistic migration policy combined with reforms to increase female and elderly labor force participation, pension reforms, and targeted social assistance will help and improve fiscal sustainability.
High Level Outcome 2
A competitive and innovative economy: Thailand must enhance tech competitiveness, strengthen competition regulations, attract skilled professionals, and empower small and medium sizedenterprises through increased access to finance for innovation. The country should also manage household debt with financial education and consumer protection. 
High Level Outcome 3
Low carbon and resilient urban development and connectivity: There is an opportunity to increase the potential of secondary cities in Thailand. However, the country must prevent urban sprawl and congestion in these emerging areas and consider climate change impacts. Enhancing transport infrastructure is key to Thailand’s domestic and regional connectivity. Focusing on resilient, low carbon development and connectivity is crucial. Digital development will also play a pivotal role.
High Level Outcome 4
Sustainable development and protection against natural disasters and climate change: Thailand needs to promote sustainable agricultural practices and responsible tourism. Addressing the challenges posed by climate change should include efforts in flood and drought prevention and mitigation, as well as improving water resource management. Prioritizing a sustainable energy transition is crucial.
High Level Outcome 5
Enabling institutions: It is critical for the country to promote more inclusive, accountable and transparent public services, including state-owned enterprises. A well functioning system of central-local government relations, capacity building for local administrative organizations, and more efficient allocation of fiscal resources can address regional disparities.