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Thailand: Oil crisis response - Govt tells big stores to close by 10pm

Other stores and petrol stations face mandatory early shut to save fuel

Starting next week, shoppers and motorists will have to brace themselves for early closing times at department stores and petrol stations, as the government implements its latest set of energy-saving measures.

As the subsidies on petrol prices come to an end next week, the government is also trying to set the tone for energy and fuel conservation, to keep the economy and the country's coffers in good shape.

Paradoxically, while the government is letting petrol prices float, it will continue subsidising diesel at least through to the end of the cool season, or February. That way, it figures it can minimise the impact of higher fuel prices on goods in the short term.

"Oil prices have fluctuated wildly this year. If we let diesel prices go up, product prices will rise. But if oil prices decline, the product prices will never fall accordingly. We are worried about that and we'd rather wait until the end of winter," said Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin yesterday chaired a meeting of relevant ministries to discuss oil prices and how to reduce consumption. His Cabinet drew up seven measures, all of which will be implemented immediately after the Cabinet meeting next Tuesday.

At the top of the list: petrol stations will be required to close after midnight nationwide.

This will directly reduce energy consumption at petrol stations and will indirectly reduce fuel consumption among motorists, according to Metta Banterngsuk, director of the Energy Policy and Planning Office.

The Cabinet still has not figured out how to handle the convenience stores and toilets at those petrol stations, an issue it has pencilled in for discussion at its next meeting.

Other key directives are that department stores will be closed at 8pm and hypermarkets at 10pm, and all billboard lights must be turned off after 10pm.

Moreover, Mor Chit and Bang Sue will provide 2,000 additional parking spaces to encourage people to park their cars and use public transportation. Soldiers will immediately work on paving the parking lots.

A logistics centre will be established to minimise the number of empty trucks on the road, and transportation service operators will be encouraged to switch from diesel to natural gas.

All measures will be mandatory, as opposed to previous measures, which were voluntary, said Energy Minister Prommin Lertsuridej.

"We can relax the rules [about early closure] a bit during December," Thaksin said.

The prime minister said the government would shoulder all the interest costs incurred from the continued diesel subsidies.

"The economy is going well and our tax revenues exceed targets. We can use the central budget to clear the interest burden. It's worth doing so," he said, predicting that despite global oil price turmoil, the economy should grow 6 per cent both this year and next.

So far this year, the government has spent about Bt25 billion subsidising oil prices, and an additional Bt25 billion-Bt30 billion should be needed for the rest of the year. With the end of subsidies, octane-91 gasoline price should reach Bt21 per litre while octane-95 should hit Bt21.74. With subsidies, diesel costs Bt14.59 per litre.

Under the managed float system, which Thaksin intends to implement around February, diesel prices will be allowed to move up to the actual price. And if the government wanted to recoup the subsidies a Bt3 surcharge should be added per litre, Metta said.

On Sunday, the prime minister will hold a meeting with all state agencies involved in traffic management.

The Industry Ministry, meanwhile, will meet with industrialists to hash out measures for reducing factories' energy consumption by 10 per cent next year.

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