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BANGKOK: Foreign investment applications in Thailand dropped 54% to 213 billion baht ($7.12 billion) in 2020 as companies were deterred by the coronavirus pandemic, while this year’s outlook remains uncertain, an investment agency said on Wednesday.

Japan remains Thailand’s biggest investor, with projects worth 76 billion baht, followed by China’s 31 billion baht of pledges and the United States’ 25 billion baht, the Board of Investment (BOI) said in a statement.

Last year, combined domestic and foreign investment pledges fell 30% from a year earlier to 481 billion baht, led by projects in electronics, agriculture and food processing, plus a 165% surge in the medical sector, it said.

“The coronavirus outbreak represented both a challenge and an opportunity,” BOI chief Duangjai Asawachintachit told a briefing.

The agency has yet to set targets for investment pledges this year as the coronavirus situation and the global economy remain highly uncertain, Duangjai said.

“There are still a lot of unknowns,” she said, adding the agency would try to maintain previous investment levels.

It has renewed incentives to encourage the listing of BOI-promoted companies, such as an additional 100% corporate income tax exemption on investment value, Duangjai said.

Thailand has not fully lifted entry restrictions on tourists that it imposed last April to reduce infections, although it is accepting some visitors on long-stay visas, who represent only a small fraction of the usual numbers.

It has successfully kept infection numbers down and although an outbreak since mid December has seen its cases increase fivefold, its total is relatively low at 23,903, with 80 deaths. In January, the confidence of the Thai Chamber of Commerce hit a 25-month low as the epidemic spread to most of Thailand’s provinces and slowed domestic activity, a university survey showed on Wednesday.

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