Thailand announced a slump in trade figures on Tuesday with the biggest drop in imports in more than four years in January, as months of anti-government protests extended their economic toll beyond falling tourism numbers.
The protesters, whose disruption of a general election this month left Thailand in political limbo, aim to topple caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and erase the influence of her brother, ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, seen by many as the power behind the government.
Weeks of unrest, most of it in the capital, Bangkok, have been interrupted by occasional bombs and gunfire, with one blast killing a woman and a young brother and sister in a busy shopping district on Sunday.
Imports fell 15.5 percent in January from a year earlier, the biggest tumble since October 2009. Imports of computers and parts were down 19 percent from a year earlier, auto parts off 31.8 percent and consumer goods 5.3 percent. Exports dropped 2 percent.
Thailand is a regional hub for global car makers and a major producer of hard disk drives.
“Everybody is definitely delaying their imports (of consumer products) as most shopping malls are quiet,” said Nopporn Thepsitthar, chairman of the National Shippers’ Council. “Nobody dares to place big orders.”
Thai Airways International reported a big net loss of 12 billion baht (£221 million) for 2013, including a loss of 5.65 billion in the final three months of the year. Another loss is already expected for 2014.
The political unrest since November and a drop in the number of tourists visiting Thailand have added to the problems of the struggling flag carrier, whose chairman resigned last week, two months after the president said he was stepping down for health reasons.
The Thai Hotel Association said this month that occupancy rates in the capital were hovering at around 50 percent, well below the usual 80 percent at this time of year.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc, which ranks fourth among hotel brands in Thailand, has said the protests significantly hurt its business there in January.
Thailand had a record year for tourists in 2013, with more than 26 million visitors, but the picture began to change in the final two months, which is normally the start of the high season. And arrivals in January were barely changed from a year earlier, Tourism Authority of Thailand figures show.
Tourism accounts for about a tenth of Thailand’s gross domestic product.
Continue: The Star
Recommended Read: Thailand’s Rice Pledging Fact Sheet