BANGKOK - Thailand's economic fundamentals remain solid despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the tourism-reliant country, and there is still fiscal room to support a recovery, its finance minister said on Wednesday. Southeast Asia's second-largest economy shrank a less than expected 6.4% in the third quarter from a year earlier after the prior quarter's 12.1% slump, helped by stimulus measures and the easing of virus restrictions. "Although facing the unfavourable economic climate, Thailand's economic fundamentals remain solid on both internal and external fronts," Arkhom Termpittayapaisith told a business forum. The fiscal position is still able to finance stimulus measures as the current public debt to gross domestic product (GDP) of 49.4% is below the 60% threshold, "leaving ample fiscal space", he said. The government has announced a 1 trillion baht ($33 billion)borrowing plan for coronavirus response measures. Arkhom reiterated that the economy was expected to contract 6% this year, better than earlier projected, and to grow 4% next year. The ministry and the Bank of Thailand (BOT) would work closely to achieve Thailand's growth targets as "interest rates and exchange rates must be in tandem with fiscal policy," he said. He also hoped the BOT could ensure the baht is competitive as the currency is "quite strong". "Some measures have been introduced just last week in order to counter the strong baht. I hope that the Bank of Thailand will continue to do this work on how to make the Thai baht more competitive," Arkhom said. While the BOT recently said the rapid rise of the baht undermined the country's fragile recovery, its latest steps were aimed at balancing fund flows. The baht traded at 30.35 per U.S. dollar at 0848 GMT, after hitting a more than 10-month high last week. ($1 = 30.35 baht) REUTERS
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