Lost in translation: AEC chatter in Thailand

Lost in translation: AEC chatter in Thailand
A zebra dove that costs $97,000.

BANGKOK - Chana district in Thailand's south-east is not far from where militants are waging a battle to separate the Malay-Muslim-dominated region from the rest of the country.

Many of its residents breed zebra doves, teasing out highly prized coos from the grey fowl.

Trade in the most expensive zebra doves resembles deals between connoisseurs. Yet even these breeders brighten up when they hear "AEC", the acronym for ASEAN Economic Community.

"It would make everyone promote trade between these countries," says breeder Sommai Khwantongyim, who expects the economic integration to bring more buyers. "I think so. And I hope so."

To call "AEC" Thailand's buzz word would be to understate it: Large banners across ASEAN's second-largest economy declare "Welcome to the ASEAN Economic Community".

Hardly a week passes without a seminar on the subject, or a minister commenting on it, or a poll on whether the kingdom is prepared for it.

Thanks to state-sponsored hype, almost all people know about the AEC. But not so many are sure exactly what it means, or are aware that it starts on Dec 31, rather than the January just past.

The AEC is envisioned to be a common market of 600 million people with freer flow of services, investment, capital and skilled labour.

But even the most optimistic observers admit it will be impossible for all 10 member states to streamline their patchwork of complex legislation by Dec 31.

Thammasat University logistics expert Ruth Banomyong has commented on how official or academic programmes often increase their chances of attracting funding by simply including some mention of AEC in their titles.

"Thailand has taken it too far and pushed it to the extreme," he says. "There are study tours to see how other countries are preparing for the AEC.

But at the end of the day, each country has different constraints. No one really tells the true story of any constraint."

Veteran journalist Kavi Chongkittavorn, who has studied the subject, estimates that the government led by ousted prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra spent more than 8 billion baht (S$320 million) on AEC-related programmes over two years.

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