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Trade Group Urges Gov’t to Rethink Banning Online Booze Sales

A man in Sisaket province loads crates of beer and soda water into a vehicle on May 3, 2020. The image was censored due to legal concerns.
A man in Sisaket province loads crates of beer and soda water into a vehicle on May 3, 2020. The image was censored due to legal concerns.

BANGKOK — Calling it unfair and obsolete, a representative of an alcohol business association on Wednesday said he’s campaigning for the government to drop the new law that will ban all online sales of booze in Thailand.

Thanakorn Kuptajit, president of the Thai Alcohol Beverage Business Association, said at a news conference that the law contradicts the government’s promotion of e-commerce and social distancing in the age of digital transformation and coronavirus pandemic.

“This law is unfair, inappropriate, and inconsistent with the current situation,” Thanakorn said.

He was referring to the controversial regulation published Sept. 8 on the Royal Government Gazette, which prohibits sales of alcoholic beverages through “electronic devices or in a manner of electronic communication.”

Read: Japanese Restaurant Owner Fined 50,000 Baht for ‘Beer Buffet’

When it becomes effective on Dec. 7, ordering a crate of wine online or adding a can of beer to your food delivery order will be illegal. Under the current law, online sale of alcoholic beverages are not prohibited as long as the vendor holds a valid license.

The law cited  difficulty in enforcing time restriction and preventing underage drinking. It was signed by PM Prayut Chan-o-cha as an addition to the draconian Alcoholic Beverage Control Act.

Thanakorn said laws seeking to control the sales of alcohol should find a way to regulate it rather than banning it altogether.

“They just want to get rid of the problem, but not try to fix it,” he said. “It’s like solving the problem of traffic accidents by banning driving.”

Online sales of alcohol rose in popularity amid the pandemic lockdown earlier this year, when bars were closed and people were encouraged to stay at home.

Several establishments offered alcoholic beverages in their home delivery menu. Some grocery stores also offered alcoholic products in their virtual aisle, raising alarm among regulators who saw it as a loophole of the alcohol control law, which is one of the strictest in Southeast Asia.

Thanakorn said online channels accounted for only 10 percent of Thai alcohol market. Instead of throwing the book at alcohol sellers, he said the government should use technology wisely to better prevent underage drinking.

“There are ways to enforce ID checks, whether by verification or credit cards,” Thanakorn said. “It is also possible to enforce time restrictions by limiting what time alcohol can be delivered. If they had consulted with the commerce or digital ministers before rolling it out, they would have come with better solutions than this.”

Jerome Le Louer, owner of the online delivery service Wishbeer, said it would be much easier for underage drinkers to buy liquor offline.

“We conduct ID checks when customers place their orders and receive their deliveries,” Le Louer said. “With all this hassle, they can just go and grab a drink from mom and pop shops or convenience stores instead.”

His shop’s days are numbered, but Le Louer said it is business as usual for him until the ban comes into effect. In the meantime, he said he will challenge the ban by filing a complaint to the Administrative Court.

“We will continue doing what we are doing,” Le Louer said. “It’s doing pretty well. However, we have begun looking for ways to develop offline business and expand our service overseas.”

Craft beer sellers community, who called themselves “Free Drunkards,” submitted a petition on Sept. 10 to a parliamentary committee on alcohol business development, demanding the government reconsider the new regulation, which they perceived as a major blow for small business.

“We’re severely affected by the new regulation and received no relief from the government,” the group’s representative Suppapong Phuenglamphu said. “They’re intimidating people. This is a health dictatorship. They also used the youth as an excuse.”

The group said they are gathering signatures required by the law to initiate the legal amendment process.

Thanakorn, who is a lawyer by profession, said it would not be difficult to amend the ban since it’s an executive order, which the minister responsible for it can immediately withdraw without having to go through the parliament.

Despite what many see it as an attempt by the government to benefit major distillers, Thanakorn said he does not believe that anyone will benefit from the ban, though he agreed that the impact will be felt the most by small brewers.

“The big players just have more ways to expand their business,” Thanakorn said. “At the end, the impact will be felt by everyone in the industry.”

Reference