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Thai Government Announces New Energy Saving Measures - 2004-08-20

The Thai government has announced new measures to lower oil consumption, including early closing times for stores and higher taxes.

Thailand's government, faced with a rising import bill as oil prices edge toward $50 a barrel, has ordered gasoline stations, department stores and supermarkets to close early, to save energy. Other measures include higher fuel taxes and allowing gasoline prices to move more freely.

The measures are scheduled to come into effect next the week of August 22.

Major retailing companies are criticizing the measures, and their executives held emergency talks Friday with Commerce Minister Watana Muangsook to try to ease the impact on companies and workers.

But government spokesman Jakrapob Penkair says the government is pressing ahead with the measures as part of a long-term strategy to conserve fuel and promote alternative energy sources.

Thailand relies heavily on oil for most of its energy needs and imports almost all of its needs.

But retailers say the measures are being applied unequally, since convenience stores can remain open, while larger shops are being forced to close earlier.

The Thai government is ending its fuel subsidies for regular gasoline, but will continue to subsidize diesel, the main fuel used by transport companies, until next March.

Raj Kumar, chief economist at the United Nations regional office in Thailand, said recently the Thai government, like other nations in the region, is facing higher budget outlays and needs to adjust its fiscal policies.

"It's the middle income countries like China, Japan - still very reliant on oil - Korea, Thailand - these are the countries that will have to adjust their fiscal policies," he said.

Government officials expect to hold more meetings over the next few days to clarify the new energy conservation policies before they come into effect next week.