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With an average growth rate of 8.5% for the past several years, Thailand has been touted as the next nation to join that exclusive club of the Newly Industrializing Countries (NIC). Since the 1950s, Thailand has seen the rapid extension of the industrial and service sectors, and the relative decline of agriculture. Today, agriculture contributes just over 15% of the country's GDP, while manufacturing alone contributes over one-quarter of the GDP. Rice, the main export for hundreds of years is today exceeded in value terms by textiles, electronics, and tourism.

Although the economy has diversified significantly, most Thais are still linked to the agricultural sector. The slow growth in this sector compared with the industrial sector means that there is now a wider economic gap between urban and rural folks.

This discrepancy has lead to massive migration of the population from the countryside to the towns and cities, especially Bangkok. Social and economic changes has been even more pronounced in urban Thailand. Here, new activities and culture forms have displaced tradition.

Meanwhile, as the fastest developing of Asia's "tiger" economies beyond China, Thailand shouts business opportunities at every turn. As always in Thailand, however, surface appearances can be deceptive. Try scratching the veneer of a Bangkok or a Thai Urbanite and you will find that not far below lies the same elemental strands of a country dweller. Therefore accessing Thailand's pots of potential profitability demands caution, stealth, and a rough understanding of a labyrinthine bureaucracy and internecine web of national complexities. Above all it requires patience, not just of a people who cannot be hurried but also of ingrained customs procedures, which doggedly refuses to budge for the onset of the 21st Century.

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