Thai food exports seen up 7% this year - business group

BANGKOK, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Thailand’s food exports are expected to rise 7.1% this year, after dropping 4% in 2020, on higher global demand as the coronavirus pandemic eases, a business group said on Thursday, noting a strong baht remained a risk to the outlook.

Food exports are forecast at 1.05 trillion baht ($35 billion) this year on an assumption that the baht would be at of level of around 30 per U.S. dollar, Anong Paijitprapapon, president of the National Food Institute, told a briefing.

Last year, Thailand exported $31.3 billion of food products, accounting for 13.5% of total shipments, a key driver of Thai growth. The food industry employs about a million workers.

The group is urging the government to quickly tackle the strength of the baht, which traded at 30.01 against the dollar on Thursday, having gained 10.5% since last April.

“Comparing with the currencies of our trade competitors, ours is very strong and could rise further. It’s a major obstacle,” said Poj Aramwattananont, vice chairman of the Board of Trade of Thailand.

“Today we must try to keep the baht at 32 or 31.5 per dollar in order to compete with others,” he added.

The central bank has repeatedly expressed concern about the baht strength which could impact the country’s fragile recovery. ($1 = 29.99 baht) (Reporting by Satawasin Staporncharnchai Writing by Orathai Sriring Editing by Ed Davies)