Although small and medium-sized enterprises have a better grasp of what the Asean Economic Community (AEC) is all about than they used to, more than 80 per cent still lack a deep understanding of how to start trading or investing in Asean or even how to compete in the home market after liberalisation.

“Since they lack in-depth knowledge of trading or doing business in Asean, Thai SMEs will be unable to export or trade their products in the Southeast Asian region, or expand business to Asean countries.

“Thai SMEs will also face difficulty surviving in the domestic market after liberalisation,” Aat Pisanwanich, director of the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce’s Centre for International Trade Studies, said yesterday.

A survey by the centre indicated that 2.23 million of the Kingdom’s 2.42 million SMEs did not understand much about the benefits, challenges, laws or market demands and behaviour in each country in Asean.

Only 190,000 SMEs had good information on how to do business in this region.

The AEC is scheduled for full implementation at the end of this year.

Based on the centre’s study and survey of 2,000 enterprises, SMEs have a better understanding of the AEC than five years ago – 88 per cent of all SMEs versus 79 per cent.

However, those SMEs that answered that they had a better understanding of the AEC only knew the basics.

Aat said this lack of insight would create losses for local companies, as they do not yet know what the impacts of or advantages from the AEC will be.

The reasons for that are that SMEs do not spend time studying the AEC, and the information dribbling out of government agencies is vague and trivial.

Seminars, mostly organised by government agencies, are too broad and do not focus on particular markets, but only give generic information.

According to the centre, manufacturers will be hit the hardest if they fail to increase their awareness of the implications of integration, followed by trading and services.

Banking, logistics, health and spas, and hotels and restaurants seemed to have the strongest familiarity with the AEC and should be able to survive under Asean integration.

Those in farming, livestock husbandry, fisheries, manufacturing, construction, telecommunications, and retail and wholesale need to learn more about each industry.

SMEs should learn more about laws, competitors, customers, customs procedures, market behaviour, transport routes and costs of doing business so that they can trade or do business under the AEC.

The government should put the AEC on the national agenda and nominate some experts in each country in Asean to educate or train firms about Asean.

Thailand should also set up an Asean resource centre by integrating information from each ministry so businesses can retrieve the content easily, Aat said. –Petchanet Pratruangkrai, The Nation