* Exports seen up 5.0-8.0 pct vs previous 3.5-6.0 pct
BANGKOK, April 3 (Reuters) - Thai business associations raised their 2018 economic forecasts on Tuesday, citing stronger exports and increased domestic demand.
The upgrade suggests Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy is gaining momentum, though growth is heavily reliant on exports and continues to lag regional peers.
The group slightly raised its 2018 economic growth forecast to 4.0-4.5 percent, from 3.8-4.5 percent.
Exports are now expected to increase 5.0-8.0 percent this year, up from 3.5-6.0 percent seen earlier.
Higher imports of capital goods suggest improving manufacturing and domestic spending, Chen Namchaisiri, chairman of a joint committee of the Federation of Thai Industries, the Thai Bankers’ Association and the Thai Board of Trade of Thailand, told a briefing.
The groups are worried about trade tension between China and the United States, though it is not expected to lead to any trade war, Chen said.
The Thai National Shippers’ Council on Tuesday also raised its 2018 export forecast, to at least 6 percent from 5.5 percent, though the baht’s strength is cutting export revenue in baht terms.
In January-February, exports in dollar terms jumped 13.8 percent from a year earlier, and were up 3.1 percent in baht terms, customs data showed.
The baht, which was at 31.2 per dollar at 0710 GMT, has risen 4.4 percent this year after gaining 9 percent in 2017.
Last week, the central bank raised its 2018 economic growth forecast to 4.1 percent from 3.9 percent, and project a 7.0 percent gain in exports, instead of 4.0 percent.
Last year, Thailand’s economy expanded 3.9 percent, the fastest pace in five years, while exports rose nearly 10 percent.
Reporting by Kitiphong Thaichareon; Writing by Orathai Sriring; Editing by Richard Borsuk