Thai finance ministry raises 2017 GDP growth outlook to 3.8 pct

* Raises 2017 GDP growth to 3.8 pct from 3.6 pct

* Ups 2017 export estimate to +8.5 pct from +4.7 pct

* Sees 2018 GDP growth at 3.8 pct, exports up 5.7 pct

BANGKOK, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Thailand’s finance ministry on Monday raised its economic growth forecast for this year to 3.8 percent from 3.6 percent, and upgraded its estimate for export gains, a senior official said.

Exports, a key driver of Thai growth, should increase 8.5 percent this year, compared with the 4.7 percent projected in July, Suwit Rojanavanich, director general of the ministry’s Fiscal Policy Office, told a news conference.

Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy this year will mainly be driven by stronger exports and tourism amid improved private investment, he said.

So far, a strong baht has not appeared to dent Thailand’s export competitiveness, but the government is worried that trade and economic growth could be dented in 2018 if the baht continues to climb.

The baht has appreciated by 7.7 percent against the dollar this year, the biggest gain among Asian currencies.

Exports recovered in 2017 after a modest 0.5 percent rise in 2016 following three years of contraction, customs data showed.

For 2018, the ministry predicts economic growth of 3.8 percent, mainly driven by government spending. It predicts exports will rise 5.7 percent.

Last month, the Bank of Thailand raised its 2017 economic growth forecast to 3.8 percent from 3.5 percent. It also projects growth of 3.8 percent for 2018.

Thailand’s growth has picked up but still lags regional peers. Private investment has remained weak for years while high household debt has crimped consumption.

In 2016, the economy expanded 3.2 percent.

The finance ministry predicts the central bank will keep its policy interest rate at 1.50 percent, where it has been since April 2015, throughout 2018.

Reporting by Kitiphong Thaichareon and Orathai Sriring; Editing by Richard Borsuk