The Retail Business Bill

The Cabinet is, finally, getting around to dealing with the Retail Business Bill but this will now go off to the Council of State for further scrutiny – which will mean another six months of delay. What is going on?

The bill itself is shamelessly populist in the worst way – it aims to prevent the spread of the large retail multiples in a world in which it is impossible to buck the globalizing market – that is after all why sad little Surayud had to give up military rule and his hard-earned salaries – it is just too complicated for a soldier of little brain to manage. When the bill was conceived, it was (so far as I can tell) aimed at raising some quasi-nationalist pro-mom and pop style retail shops across the Kingdom. It betrays the longstanding anti-business bias of the Thai right and establishment (which would take a long time to detail – perhaps another time).

Subsequently, the government has found itself having to do something with a bill that has already served its principal purpose as a form of pints-scoring propaganda and which will prove almost impossible to put into practice because of the response of international retailers (who are now substantial employers of Thai workers). As a result, the government has dragged its feet as much as possible and will find ways to neutralize what little effectiveness the bill might have had – presumably there will need, sometime, to deal with it as a piece of legislation but that has, as ever, been postponed for the future with, presumably, the vague hope that something will turn up (there might, after all, well be a new government in place by that time and so it will be an SEP*).

* Someone else’s problem.

Stock Exchange and Page One Books

The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET), which was up 3% yesterday (presumably fuelled by relief over Dubai), has lost nearly all of that gain today – partly attributed to the decision by the Supreme Administrative Court (which has a recent history of interesting decisions) to permit just 11 of the 76 projects at the Mat Tha Phut Industrial Estate in Rayong to resume operations. These 11 are reported as being part of the cleaner industry sector, although the others are unreconstructed gas-peddlers, perhaps.

What this does illustrate is the high level of volatility of the SET – particularly after the dramatic falls over the last couple of years have reduced it to just 700 points more or less which means that even relatively modest changes can have apparently significant percentage changes. This is then reinforced by the herd-like mentality of most investors and brokers – that is, once a sentiment of either buying or selling sets in to the market overall, then others will join the bandwagon and the effects become amplified. The result is, as we have seen over the past few months, a rollercoaster of fairly pointless ups and downs.

Meanwhile, as news comes through that Borders seems unfortunately to be on the verge of jeng (bankruptcy), this seems a curious time for Page One (of Singapore) and our own Central to be spending 200 million baht on opening a dozen Page One outlets for books – seemingly taking over from or supplementing the existing B2S operations. I am all for more book shops of course, even if the number of Asia  Books and Kinokuniya stores seems to be enough in my view for the foreign book market (the latter carries Thai, Chinese and Japanese language books in addition to English ones). However, the Page One people seem to think that providing foreign books at some 30% cheaper will give them some competitive advantage. Let’s hope they are successful – I’m not sure when I will have chance to visit any of the new places but if I can then I will report back.

Asia Books, Khon Kaen and Retail Development in Thailand

A flyer from Asia Books has let me know that there will be one of their shops in the new Plaza Shopping Mall in Khon Kaen – I went past on the way to the airport during my trip there a couple of weeks ago. It is nearly finished and shop be open some time in the next few weeks, I believe: there is plenty of car parking and a Robinson’s Department Store and, no doubt, the usual other range of retail outlets. It is the first Asia Books in Isan – not in itself an earth-shattering fact but symptomatic of the way that urban centres are changing in Thailand.

The Optimistic View: new opportunities for people to enjoy more products and good new indoor jobs in decent circumstances. Globalisation makes people’s lives better and opens up new markets for individuals and companies. It is what people want – as will no doubt be seen when the doors open.

The Pessimistic View: the middle classes open up new spaces that will not only exclude the poor but will eliminate their livelihoods and their work. Air conditioned malls and wider streets for middle class cars reduce street opportunities for the poor and increase the carbon footprint. People are sucked into consumption and production of goods for which they have no real need. Greed increases.

Well, as good Hegelians all, we apply the dialectical method for a synthesis – there is of course a need for proper research to work out which of the above arguments are really influential and which are chimeras. The provision of decent jobs is an important part of government’s responsibility and encouraging the growth of new businesses tends to encourage decent work – it may be characterised as demeaning in some cases but it is better, for many people, than the alternative.

Supporting Local Business

I see that Khru Somsri is back in business – you can find her online but I will not advertise – she, assuming there really is a she as the marketing suggests, has several rooms in the subway station at Phahonyothin which I pass through on my way to the Carrefour from time to time. After some delay, she opened up her various classrooms just in time for the PM to order all after-hours schools closed owing to the swine flu outbreak. After several weeks, she is now as I say back in business, although I cannot imagine that this has been good either for her cash flow or the willingness of parents to believe their little darlings are safe outside of their constant monitoring.

Well, good luck to her – it is generally a good thing to see new businesses flourishing and, it is hoped, creating jobs for people. I also notice that a new branch of Asia Books has opened in Central Ladprao, on what I would call the second floor. It is the same space as used to be occupied by a small and I guess independent bookshop which had a very small number of English language books and rarely seemed to have many customers for the Thai books.

Asia Books is a good chain and provides English language books in a couple of dozen outlets mostly in Bangkok – although the comparatively newly opened Kinokuniya shop in Siam Paragon is better than any of those branches I have visited. Well, in the interest of supporting local business (and in no way because I am addicted to buying books and already have a large stockpile I will almost certainly never get to working my way through) I decided to pop in and have a look.

It is quite a small shop, especially for a book shop – around the same as most of the clothes shops in a regular shopping mall. The range of books is not too bad – there are the usual categories (Books on Thailand, Asian interest, food, dek stuff, general fiction and so forth) and, inevitably, some of the shelf stacking seems to have been done on a semi-random basis. However, I managed to find something interesting.

Can it survive and flourish? Over the last year or so, the B2S chains have been developing their English language books and their selection of music, in addition to all the other stock they offer. This Asia Books shop is smaller than the book space that B2S devotes to English language books in the department store a few metres away (although not that much more space).

Is there sufficient demand for another bookshop there? I’d like to think so and I’d like to think their assortments of books could become distinctive. We shall see. Now if only we could get a decent HMV or similar such as they have in Singapore …