Top Story of the week: Laos' WTO membership terms agreed
- For more information on the Council's Laos program, please contact Carr Slayton at email@example.com or 202 416-6712 and Fon Wanlapa Komkai at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202 416-6706.
Laos has taken a huge stride in the advancement of the international and national rule of law by ratifying three international conventions of the United Nations in New York on Wednesday.
The three documents ratified included the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; the Multilateral Agreement for the Establishment of an International Think Tank for Landlocked Developing Countries; and the Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits arising from their Utilisation to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The ratifications took place during the 67th session of the UN General Assembly's annual general debate which opened at the UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday. Lao Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Thongloun Sisoulith led the Lao delegation at the event.
Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Laos, Thoungloun Sisoulith, today urged Member States to lend greater financial support to the world’s most vulnerable countries.
“The Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) are one of the most vulnerable groups among members of the United Nations due to their geographical locations,” said Deputy Prime Minister Sisoulith, adding that each year they “bear a heavy financial burden” in their efforts to improve their transit transport infrastructure so as to ensure that their exports reach the global markets.
“These problems are compounded when their national economies are affected by other crises such as financial, social, natural disasters, climate change,” he added, noting 50 per cent of LLDCs also ranked as Least Developed Countries.
Metro Machinery Group (MMG) will provide more than Bt1.5 billion worth of Caterpillar construction and mining equipment to a gold and copper mine in Laos as part of its plan to boost its sales there to Bt10 billion this year.
"The company has put a focus on the Laotian market because of its very high mining growth. About 400 executives and technicians from Thailand have been dispatched to Laos in an attempt to expand the market and provide 24-hour maintenance," Thongsai Burapachaisri, chairman of Bangkok-based Metro-Cat, said yesterday. Australia-based MMG has bought 70 units of machinery and service contracts for copper mining in Laos in a deal worth US$50 million (Bt1.5 billion), he said.
Vientiane authorities are currently working with their district counterparts to take action to regulate foreign workers in the capital, a senior official said yesterday.
There are more than 4,000 foreigners in the capital - mostly from neighbouring countries. The numbers include both legal and illegal foreign expatriates, according to an initial report from the authorities. Officials from the Vientiane Labour and Social Welfare Department have been visiting district offices to explain the measures which will be put in place following the recent government announcement that details what action will be taken.
The department's Deputy Director, Mr Naenthong Leumaisone, told the Vientiane Times yesterday that the department will conclude the meetings with district authorities this week. District authorities aim to finish registering and issuing temporary work permits to foreigners next month. Later, foreigners will be required to seek longer term work permits from the department, Mr Naenthong said.
The latest update from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), predicts Laos’ economic growth will see a 7.9 percent increase over 2012/2013, compared to the previous year.
The Asian Development Outlook, an annual publication from the ADB, is periodically updated throughout the year. This year’s Outlook has identified the electricity and mining sectors as the primary drivers of Laos’ strong growth rate.
Laos, one of South-East Asia’s least developed countries, is aiming to become one of the region’s major producers and exporters of electricity through a large number of hydropower projects. Several new plants are expected to be completed this year, with total output expected to reach 3856 MW by 2015.
The World Trade Organization is poised this month to accept Laos, the smallest economy in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the last one outside the global trading club.
The terms of Laos’s membership were agreed to last week by a working party on its accession, and now must be endorsed by all 157 members of the WTO, according to a posting on the Geneva-based group’s website.
Vietnam was the last member of Asean to join the WTO, in January 2007. Laotian accession further bolsters the association’s international position, as China and the U.S. compete for influence in the region and Myanmar moves away from decades of political isolation.
The government is exploring ways to strengthen state enterprises and state joint business ventures, so they can contribute more to the national budget and socio-economic development.
Representatives of state enterprises and state joint venture businesses gathered at the Government Office in Vientiane yesterday, to discuss how they could improve their management and become profitable. The seminar was chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad. The meeting considered the need to improve business regulations, land management for business operations, the establishment of working groups, capacity building, and appointing the best qualified board members to oversee operations.
People living near to mining operations can look forward to improved living conditions through new Community Development Funds. Officials from the Ministry of Energy and Mines met yesterday in Vientiane for discussions on the ‘Establishment of the Working Group for Community Development Funds in the Mines Sector’.
Director General of the ministry’s Mines Department, Dr Simon Phichit, said the mining sector is concerned not only with the excavation of mines and environmental protection, but also with its social responsibility to help villagers around project sites.
Laos will face even greater development challenges when it integrates with the global economic community, according to a senior economist.
“The Lao economy is now a part of the global financial system. What happens in the world economy will impact on Laos,” Director General of the National Economic Research Institute, Dr Liber Leebouapao, said yesterday after attending a meeting on the Global Economic Outlook in Vientiane on Wednesday. The meeting was hosted by the National Economic Research Institute, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and NUOL’s Faculty of Economics and Business Management. Local and overseas economists and officials from financial institutions participated in the meeting.
Local and foreign investment is on the rise at a major industrial park in Vientiane, the Khoksa-ath Industrial Zone in Xaythany district.
“The zone now contains 31 factories with an investment value of about 300 billion kip (US$37.5 million),” an official at the zone management office said on Tuesday. The factories produce steel, cement, furniture, white charcoal, and silicon. Until recently the zone, which covers about 1,300 hectares, had only 20 factories, the zone management office reported in 2010.
Delegations from 27 countries, the European Parliament and three international organisations arrived in Vientiane yesterday to attend the 7th Asia-Europe Parliamentary Partnership Meeting (ASEP7) today.
The people of Laos, especially those living in Vientiane, are delighted to welcome the 250 delegates to Laos for the meeting, which takes place on October 3-4. All preparations are now complete, thanks to the dedicated efforts of everyone involved, with all sectors of society playing their part in the run-up to the event. Vientiane's main roads have been adorned with ornamental lighting and the flags of the participating countries. Central areas have undergone a transformation as shrubs were planted and buildings painted to spruce up the capital.
The ASEP is part of the overall Asia-Europe partnership process. The ultimate goal of the meeting is to report the results of participants' discussions to the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit next month, to ensure leaders are in tune with citizens' thinking in the countries of Asia and Europe. The ASEP7 meeting aims to promote mutual understanding among the people and countries of Asia and Europe. It serves as a forum for member countries to share their thoughts and exchange views on current regional and global issues of common interest.
After years of preparation, communist Laos is on the verge of joining the World Trade Organization, a milestone that the small landlocked nation owes to a slew of reforms it must now enforce.
Fifteen years since it first applied to join the global trading body, membership negotiations with Vientiane finally concluded last week.
The deal is now all but done: the accession is set to be confirmed by the 157-member WTO at a meeting on October 26, before being ratified by the Laotian parliament by the end of the year. The process "has been long and tedious", said Industry and Commerce Minister Nam Viyaketh.
The terms of Laos’ WTO membership were agreed by the countries negotiating with the least-developed nation on 28 September 2012, and now go for approval by all 157 current WTO members in the General Council on 26 October.
Essentially, the deal is done, but officially it is “ad referendum”, meaning it still needs to be confirmed, in this case at the General Council meeting. WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy praised members for the remarkable acceleration in least developed countries’ accessions since 2011. Laos’ talks benefited from members agreeing to speed up the process and to provide essential technical assistance to the government. “It shows the commitment of the WTO to the least-developed countries,” he said.
The Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LNCCI) will host the ‘Made in Laos Expo 2012' next month at Lao-ITECC in Xaysettha district, Vientiane, from October 17 to 21. The fair will feature 300 booths displaying a mix of local produce from every province, including foreign companies which manufacture goods in Laos.
The exhibition will promote the production and supply of Lao goods to both domestic and international markets. Already more than 120 booths have been booked by garment, furniture, jewellery, handicraft, agriculture, pharmaceutical, industry and services vendors, according to LNCCI’s report yesterday.
The American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) has opened an office in Laos, creating a focal point for US businesses intending to invest in the country.
The Lao Chapter of the American Chamber of Commerce held an official opening ceremony last week after getting the green light from the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs to set up the office. More than 75 people representing over 50 US and Lao businesses and companies attended the event, which was held at the Vientiane residence of the US Ambassador to Laos, Ms Karen Stewart, on September 19.
Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the capital and Borikhamxay and Vientiane provinces can now obtain loans from the government’s SME Fund through Lao Development Bank (LDB) service offices. The bank had to complete the upgrade of its service operations before it was ready to disburse the loans. “So far, only one large Vientiane farm business operator has applied for a loan, which was 200 million kip,” a bank official said yesterday.
The bank expects SMEs will increasingly apply for loans from their branches. The bank is also aiming for SMEs around the country to have the same access. “We used the SME loan service in Vientiane as a model, and we hope to continue to roll out the service to all provinces if the model is a success,” the bank official said.
Food & Agriculture
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has asked the government to grant them approval to draw up legislation to prevent rice fields from being used for development projects. The move has come about after the ministry learnt that land used for rice cultivation has been used for development purposes without being replaced. Officials fear this problem could pose a threat to food security if allowed to continue.
At present, there are 2.1 million hectares of agricultural land in Laos, including 0.9 million hectares of rice fields and 0.4 million hectares of vegetable and fruit farms, according to the ministry. Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Mr Vilayvanh Phomkhe said the government considers land to be an issue that must be centrally managed so as to ensure it is used in the most effective way.
Lao farmers are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters because 80 percent of the country’s population relies on agricultural production, so disaster responses are a key priority for protecting people’s livelihoods. This was the message given by Special Representative of the Secretary General for the UN Office for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), Ms Margareta Wahlstrom, when speaking to Lao media on Friday at the close of the ASEP7 meeting in Vientiane. “Last year the value of losses in Laos was estimated at US$58 million. But if you think about the total value of the crops and livestock lost by farmers the figure would be much higher,” she said.
International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has established a new programme to help farmers in the southern provinces of Saravan and Xekong to produce commercial crops.
The international development organisation believes that commercial crop cultivation will enable farmers to generate income, improve their living conditions and reduce poverty in accordance with government policy. To ensure the effective operation of the Southern Food Security and Market Linkages Programme, which will be implemented in Saravan and Xekong provinces, IFAD held a meeting with stakeholders on Monday to discuss how to better coordinate and find synergies under IFAD’s new programme.
Despite the fact that the agriculture and forestry sector in Laos continues to grow, the country needs more technical and funding assistance to spur further development. The 34th Asean Ministerial Meeting on Agriculture and Forestry (AMAF) and the 12th AMAF+3 are taking place in Vientiane from September 24 to 29.
The focus will be on the two main issues facing the sector, namely food security and climate change response, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Mr Vilayvanh Phomkhe told local media on Monday. As the world population continues to grow, many countries are expanding their agricultural industries, processing food products such as rice, meat, fish and vegetables, Mr Vilayvanh said.
Laos has decided to set a minimum price for rice purchased from farmers to cushion them from a volatile market, the government announced Tuesday. An official with the Agriculture and Forestry Department in Champassak province, the rice bowl of Laos, said farmers have been reeling from erratic demand and prices compounded by the poor quality of the commodity produced.
The official said farmers face heavy risks because they have no control over the market. Buyers and farmers are also mostly not bound by contracts that would compel buyers to purchase rice at previously agreed prices and farmers to deliver predetermined quantities at quality standards.
Laos and Thailand have signed a partnership contract to jointly develop the existing cross border telecommunications network in an effort to boost the economy and expand internet penetration.
The neighbouring nations reached the agreement during a meeting held in Vientiane last week between the Advisor to the Thai Information and Communication Technology Minister, Mr Nattapong Seetavorarat, and Laos' Assistant Minister of Post and Telecommunications, Mr Pradappetch Chaiyakod.
A number of senior officials, managers and staff from the state-owned Enterprise of Lao Telecom and Thailand's state-owned CAT Telecom also attended the meeting. The meeting took place during the ETL-CAT Network Showcase in Vientiane aiming to beef up the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) project, especially in relation to the Internet Data Centre (IDC) operated by the two countries.
The Xayaboury Hydropower Development Project is playing a significant role in improving public infrastructure, education and healthcare for the people of Xayaboury district, helping them to rise above poverty, a senior official has said.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Vientiane Times recently, Xayaboury district Governor Ms Bounphak Inthapanya said construction of the dam is giving district authorities the chance to relocate villagers from remote areas to places where they have access to roads, electricity and water supply. One village of about 350 people in 75 families has moved from the dam construction site near the Mekong River to a purpose built village about 30km away. Six other villages have moved from the riverbank to higher ground.
Lao Airlines is hoping to persuade EADS’ maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) firm in Malaysia, Sepang Aircraft Engineering (SAE), to establish a joint-venture MRO operation.
The carrier wants to form a joint venture with a foreign MRO company so that heavy maintenance checks on its ATR and Airbus aircraft can be done at Vientiane’s Wattay International Airport, says Lao Airlines VP Sengpraseuth Mathouchanh. He says the carrier is in discussions with SAE about this. SAE, which EADS bought into late last year, does heavy maintenance checks on A320s from the AirAsia and Myanmar Airways International fleets. It also recently completed its first heavy check on an ATR 72-500 from Malaysia Airlines subsidiary Firefly.
Lao Airlines recently took possession of a new aircraft hangar at Wattay International Airport. Mathouchanh says the Laos government paid for the hangar using financing from the Chinese government. AEPS, a French company registered in Hong Kong, currently handles the airline’s line maintenance.
A new 19-kilometre concrete road running from the km 22 point on Road 13 South and linking up with the 450 Year Road through Huaxieng village will further boost Vientiane’s development.
An agreement to upgrade the road was signed in Vientiane last Friday between Vientiane Public Works and Transport Department Director, Mr Dedsongkham Thammavong, and Saha Construction Company President, Mr Khamheuang Phongsavanh, and witnessed by Vientiane Vice Mayor, Mr Keophilavanh Aphaylath. The Vientiane Public Works and Transport Department is implementing the project to reduce the volume of traffic, ease congestion and accommodate the capital’s expansion and development.
The Wattay International Airport Upgrade Project has seen the airport undergo a transformation, to accommodate delegates attending the 9th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit taking place in Vientiane from November 5-6. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Thongloun Sisoulith, Minister of Public Works and Transport Mr Sommad Pholsena, Minister of Planning and Investment Mr Somdy Duangdy, and Minister of Finance Mr Phouphet Khamphounvong yesterday attended a ceremony at the airport to hand over the completed project. The Lao Civil Aviation Department reported that the project had been completed five months ahead of schedule.
Indonesian and Laos governments signed a bilateral aviation agreement in Jakarta on Wednesday, which will allow for the establishment of direct airline services between Jakarta and Vientiane.
“The agreement will create many benefits for both countries, especially in the economic and tourism sectors. It will also bring the people of Indonesia and Laos closer, strengthening friendship between the two ASEAN countries,” Transportation Ministry’s air transportation director Djoko Murjatmodjo said after the signing of the agreement. He hoped that the Jakarta–Vientiane route could be opened by the end of 2013.
Lao Airlines will soon open new routes to the Republic of Korea and China as part of the airline's expansion goals in response to growing market demand.
Flights will operate from Vientiane to both Seoul and Busan, with both sectors expected to begin service in December this year. A flight from Vientiane to Guangzhou in China is also planned, possibly as early as November. Director of Lao Airlines' commercial department Saleum Tayarath told Vientiane Times last week the national carrier will use the 142-seat Airbus on these routes.
A bridge connecting Thailand’s Bueng Kan province and Bolikhamxai province in Laos will be built in the next three years to boost more trade and tourism.
Bung Kan governor, Pornsak Jearanai, said the construction of the fifth Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge should begin in three years. “The Cabinet has approved the project which cost Bt2 billion based on present day costs,” he said. “The governments of both countries have agreed in principle to go ahead with the fifth bridge over the Mekong River,” he said.
The creation of specific and special economic zones can be possible not only in coastline nations, but also in landlocked countries, a top government official has said.
The role of special economic zones is to promote infrastructure development, services, production, skill development and the transfer of modern technology. They are established in specific locations, offering tax and duty incentives to businesses which base themselves there, with the aim of boosting the local economy in these areas. President of the Lao National Committee for Special Economic Zones, Ms Bounpheng Mounphosay, said that while the zones could well be achieved in landlocked countries, they did need to have good policy, political security, manpower and good management backed up by a legal system in order to attract investors.
Three draft laws and regulations and a draft national strategy were approved by Lao government members under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, at the monthly government meeting held from September 25-26. The documents include a draft irrigation law, a trade inspection decree, and a securities law, as well as a draft strategy to prevent corruption, that would be in effect until 2020.
“The government has formulated a strategy to counter corruption, with the aim of protecting Party directives and policies, strengthening law enforcement, and diminishing and wiping out undesirable conduct such as autocracy, extravagance, and corruption,” government spokesperson Bounpheng Mounphosay said at a press conference following the meeting.
The Ministry of Education and Sports is drafting a law that stipulates measures and criteria required for the improvement of job skills, aiming to meet regional and global standards, senior officials revealed.
The draft law on vocational and skills training is expected to be submitted to the National Assembly for debate, seeking approval sometime next year, Deputy Minister of Education and Sports Associate Prof. Dr Kongsy Sengmany said yesterday.
He made the announcement at a meeting in Vientiane to review the annual progress of the Education for Career Empowerment Project, which has been financially supported by the Thai-based Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding PCL (RATCH). In the draft law, officials intend to stipulate that the private sector will have obligations to involve themselves in the training of the skilled personnel required to ensure the current economic growth trends continue.
The President Choummaly Sayasone has urged local businessmen to strengthen more cooperation and to continue developing their products so as to create compatibility in the local market and export.
He expressed his satisfactory to previous performance of local businessmen who have paid intention to development of manufacture under the Party and Government’s policy on promotion. The President Choummaly gave his advice during visit an exhibition of agriculture products at ITECC on 29 September with aim to inspire the Lao manufacturers’ spirit to develop their products. He expressed his worried over Lao businessmen in connection furniture, vegetables planting group, rice mills, cash crop seeds group and cattle raising group.
Ministry of Public Works and Transport officials met with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) yesterday in Vientiane, for the final workshop on the Basic Study on Low-Emission Public Transport System in Laos.
The study, which began in January and finished this month, collected information and surveys for a nationwide analysis on transport issues, especially in Vientiane and the provinces of Luang Prabang, Savannakhet and Champassak, said Minister of Public Works and Transport Mr Sommad Pholsena.
“We have chosen electric vehicles as the basis for developing a low-emission public transport system. Supporting the use of this type of transport is essential, but will rely on cooperation with many sectors,” he added.
Kuan district in Huaphan province is struggling to alleviate poverty, with 78 percent of the district’s population still living below the poverty line. Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong visited the district on Thursday to advise local authorities on how to help villagers trying to escape from poverty and improve their livelihoods.
He encouraged the authorities to formulate a strategic plan for district development, with a focus on commercial production to generate more income for local people. Kuan district was established in February of this year, bringing the total number of districts in Huaphan to nine. Kuan ranks as one of the poorest districts in Laos and is located about 150km from the provincial capital.
A second joint coordinating committee meeting concerning the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)’s Project for Establishing a Public Investment Plan took place in Vientiane on Wednesday. The project supports government efforts to successfully implement the National Socio-economic Development Plan.
The meeting was attended by representatives from JICA and the Embassy of Japan to Laos and the Ministry of Planning and Investment. The project, which began in March 2012, aims to provide technical cooperation to further improve public investment project management methods among Lao government officials nationwide.
UNPO Secretary General Marino Busdachin condemns in the statement below the recent violence against the Hmong people by the Lao and Vietnamese Military Forces, and urges the international community to speak out against this crackdown.
UNPO Secretary General Marino Busdachin condemns the recent violence perpetrated by the Lao and Vietnamese military forces against the Hmong people. Laos must end its violent campaign to cleanse the country of Hmong people on the basis of their ethnicity. President Chong Lor Her of the Hmong Chao Fa reports that the Lao and Vietnamese military forces are cooperating in their violent efforts to decimate the Hmong people. On 25 and 26 September 2012, soldiers came from Moungcha and Xiangkhouang, firing heavy weapons in the Hmong-inhabited region of Phou Bia Mountain. The Hmong have been able to offer minimal and unsuccessful resistance to the powerful militaries of Laos and Vietnam.
The Government Office has warned local residents and authorities in southern and central Laos of Typhoon Gaemi’s approach, which is threatening to bring flooding, strong winds, and landslides. The tropical storm will move into Vietnam tonight, and is predicted to pass through Xekong, Attapeu and Champassak provinces from Saturday through to Monday, according to the Meteorology and Hydrology Department.
Typhoon Gaemi formed as a tropical depression in the central part of the South China Sea. The department warned of light to heavy rains and strong winds through the southern provinces and centrally from Borikhamxay to Attapeu provinces.
The US Department of State's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement has pledged US$1.5 million to start a new unexploded ordnance (UXO) clearance project in Laos.
The fund was granted through the HALO Trust to Laos, and will contribute to a UXO clearance project in Savannakhet province's Vilabouly and Xepon districts. The one-year project will end next October. The grant-signing ceremony by Director of the National Regulatory for UXO/Mine Action Sector in Laos, Mr Phoukhiew Chanthasomboun, and the HALO Trust Programme Manager, Mr Armen Harutyunyan, was held yesterday in Vientiane. The event was attended by US Ambassador to Laos Ms Karen Stewart, Savannakhet provincial Governor Dr Khampheuy Phanthachone, and other guests.
RMA Lao has agreed to provide the Lao-German Technical School in Vientiane with long term support for automotive, heavy, power and agriculture equipment training and education.
An official ceremony to provide the grant took place at the school and the contract was signed by the company’s Country Manager Mr Chris Manley and the school’s Director Mr Somlith Virivong. The ceremony was attended by the Ministry of Education and Sports’ Technical and Vocational Education Department Director General, Mr Nouphanh Outsa, along with officials and other guests. The objective of the grant is to support and develop labour market-oriented dual cooperative training (DCT) in these equipment areas, as part of the company’s policy on social contribution.
Laos sends a team to investigate a land dispute in southern Laos. The Lao government has set up a task force to investigate a long-running dispute with villagers affected by the development of a rubber plantation by a Vietnamese company in southern Laos’s remote Sekong province, according to an official.
An unknown number of villagers in Sekong’s Thateng district have been seeking financial compensation and alternative land from the government after they were asked to vacate their farmland for the rubber plantation project by Vietnamese company Cong Ty Cao Su Nghi Lao-Viet (LVF) company.
Lawyers, judges, legal educators, students, governmental and non-governmental represen tatives gathered for a conference in Vientiane on Friday to discuss how to develop pro bono partnerships and the pro bono situation in Laos.
The two-day 1st Southeast Asia Pro Bono Conference was convened for participants to share their ideas on how to instill an ethic of pro bono amongst future leaders. The primary objective was to support the development of socially aware, ethical lawyers and non-lawyers to actively participate, advocate and lead pro bono initiatives.
Lao students hoping to obtain an international Master of Science degree in renewable energy can now study locally after the course was introduced at NUOL.
Laos' first ever international Master of Science degree programme in renewable energy was launched on Wednesday at NUOL's Faculty of Science. So far, 13 students have enrolled in the course, with informal classes operating since last academic year. The programme is two years in duration, with students being instructed by both local lecturers and specialists from the Republic of Korea. The course is now under the supervision of Prof. Young-Joo Song, a volunteer Korean scientist who received a PhD in Electrical Engineering from the State University of New York in Buffalo, USA.