BANGKOK: Thailand's finance ministry on Thursday slashed its 2021 economic growth forecast to 2.8%, from 4.5% growth it projected earlier, after fresh waves of COVID-19 cases in the Southeast Asian nation and other countries hit tourism. The ministry now expects the tourism-reliant country to receive 5 million foreign tourists this year, down 25% from last year and compared with 8 million predicted earlier, ministry spokeswoman Kulaya Tantitemit told a briefing. "The main factor for the outlook downgrade is lower foreign arrivals... which have impacted related economic activity despite the government injecting money through stimulus measures," she said. Tourism generally accounts for 12% of gross domestic product (GDP) and foreign visitor numbers fell 83% to 6.7 million in 2020, when the economy likely contracted 6.5%, the ministry said. Official 2020 GDP will be released next month. The central bank in December forecast 3.2% growth this year while some analysts see about 2% growth after the latest outbreak has spread to most of Thailand's provinces. However, the government is easing virus restrictions after localised falls in new infections. Most recent cases are found in a province that is the epicentre of the outbreak. Kulaya said GDP growth could reach the top of the ministry's 2.3-3.3% forecast range this year, helped by recent government stimulus measures, vaccination plans and improved exports. Some 210 billion baht ($7 billion) of stimulus should lift GDP growth by 0.5-0.6 percentage point this year, while a current co-payment scheme should boost growth by 0.12 point, she said. Despite a strong baht, the ministry predicts exports, a key growth driver, will rise 6.2% this year from 6.0% seen earlier as the economies of trading partners improve, Kulaya said. - Reuters
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