After centuries of trade agreements, most exports are still based on farming and natural resources, with just 3 percent of exports from manufacturing in 1965. The first two economic plans seek industrialization by substituting imports, not promoting exports. The Ministry of Commerce oversees trade, supervising prices of key commodities such as rice.
Policies shift from import substitution to export-led growth, though these measures are only moderately effective until the 1980s. Strengths such as cheap labor and natural resources are used to diversify the economy into chemicals, textiles, electronics, iron and steel, and minerals that can be sold overseas.
With farm goods half of exports in 1980, industrialization is slow and trade deficits persist. Exports finally take off due to devaluations, lowered tariffs, incentives, and Export-Processing Zones. Thailand helps found the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation to foster trade in the region. But in 1989 the U.S. cites Thailand for failure to protect intellectual property rights.
Rapidly expanding throughout the '70s and '80s, Thailand's trade deficit rises to $14 billion in 1995. Tourism and investment dollars, however, have helped balance its ill effects in the short term. An Intellectual Property and International Trade Court is established, partly to appease foreign critics, and Thailand helps initiate an Asian Free Trade Area.
After the Asian crisis sets in, the trade balance becomes positive in 1998 due to the drop in consumption and the currency devaluation. By 1999 electronic exports reach US$21.4 billion. Tariffs fall slightly, but non-tariff barriers such as complex import licenses remain.
The global economic slowdown of 2001 curtails the trade recovery; exports drop almost 6 percent in that year. But they stage a rapid revival in 2002, stoking the overall economic revival, and exports account for close to two-thirds of GDP.
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