* Economy to grow 4% next year after -6% seen this year
* Fiscal policy to focus on supporting growth
* Public debt level still manageable
* Central bank should take more action on baht rise (Adds detail, baht)
BANGKOK, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Thailand’s economy is expected to grow 4% in 2021 after a slump this year and fiscal policy will support a tourism-reliant economy struggling from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, the finance minister said on Monday.
Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy shrank a less than expected 6.4% in the third quarter from a year earlier after falling 12.1% in the previous three months.
The economy had bottomed but recovery was not fast as the battered tourism sector, which accounts for about 12% of gross domestic product (GDP), has also hurt supply chains, Finance minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said.
“Without the COVID, our economy could have expanded 3% this year, he said. “As we expect a 6% contraction this year, there is the output gap of 9%,” he told a business forum.
“Next year, we expect 4% growth, which is still not 100% yet,” Arkhom said, adding it could take until 2022 to return to pre-pandemic levels.
There is still fiscal policy room to help growth from this year’s fiscal budget and some from rehabilitation spending, he said.
The budget for the next fiscal year will still focus on boosting domestic activity, Arkhom said, and the current public debt of 49% of GDP was manageable.
Of the government’s 1 trillion baht ($33 billion) borrowing plan, 400 billion would be for economic revival, of which about 120 billion-130 billion has been approved, Arkhom said.
He wants the Bank of Thailand to take more action short term on the baht, which continued to rise on Monday, despite central bank measures announced on Friday to rein in the currency strength.
“They have done that and they have their measures... which should be introduced gradually and more intensely,” Arkhom said.
The baht was at 32.27 per U.S. dollar at 1008 GMT, hovering near last week’s more than 10-month high, driven by fund inflows. ($1 = 30.28 baht) (Additional reporting by Satawasin Staporncharnchai; Editing by Martin Petty)
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