Laos Update: March 8, 2018

Laos Update | March 8, 2018
Authors: Matt Solomon, Ella Duangkaew, Kevin Rutigliano
 
LOOKING AHEAD
 
 

August 23-24, 2018: Laos Business Mission: Please save the date for the Council's annual Business Mission to Laos, taking place in Vientiane. Please contact Ella Duangkaew at eduangkaew@usasean.org with any questions.

 
THE COUNCIL'S TAKE
 
 

Vientiane-Pakxe Expressway Feasibility Study Underway

As of February 26, four construction companies from Laos and China have been selected by the government to conduct surveys, feasibility studies, and detailed designs for a Vientiane-Pakxe (also spelled “Pakse”) Expressway Project. According to an official from the Department of Roads, under the Ministry of Roads and Transportation, the companies participating in the study are the China Road and Bridge Cooperation Company, Douangchaleun Development Group, China Yunnan Sunny Road and Bridge Company, and the Phousy Construction and Development Public Company. The expressway is planned to be 585 kilometers long and will run from Vientiane to Champasak Province. Expressway Project Coordinator Mr. Bounyavath Nilaxay stated that the companies are scheduled to begin their work this year, and will take one year to complete the projects, following the signing of contracts with the Ministry of Roads and Transportation.

Presently, it takes about 10 hours to travel by motor vehicle from Vientiane to Champasak’s provincial capital Pakxe. The construction of the Vientiane-Pakxe Expressway is expected to reduce the duration of this trip to slightly under seven hours. This project is part of Laos’ ongoing effort to transform itself from a landlocked country to a land-linked country. The construction of the Vientiane-Pakxe Expressway may reduce transportation costs by shortening the trip between Vientiane and Pakxe.

U.S. Congressional Delegations Visit Laos

From February 21 to 25, two U.S. Congressional Delegations visited Laos with the goal of strengthening bilateral cooperation between the United States and Laos. The delegations met with Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Sonexay Siphandone, National Assembly President Mrs. Pany Yathotou, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Mr. Somdy Duangdy, and Foreign Minister Mr. Saleumxay Kommasith. According to a press release by the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane, the first delegation arrived on February 21, and the second arrived on February 23.The first delegation was led by Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, the Republican representative from New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District. Congressman Pete Aguilar, the Democratic representative from California’s 31st Congressional District also joined this first delegation. The second delegation was led by Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Bob Goodlatte, the Democratic representative from Virginia’s 6th Congressional District. He was joined by six additional Congressional members.

The delegations discussed ways to deepen ties between the U.S. Congress and the National Assembly, including future legislative exchanges and strengthening the Lao-U.S. Comprehensive Partnership. In addition, the delegation members commended the Lao government’s efforts to strengthen the rule of law, reduce corruption, and improve the business climate. Following President Obama’s September 2016 visit, as well as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s September 2017 visit, these back-to-back Congressional delegations, led by the Chairmen of two of the most influential House Committees, continue the trend of high-level engagement from senior U.S. government officials with Laos over the past two years.

 
IN THIS UPDATE
 
 

Regional Affairs
Laos and Thailand Cooperate on Migrant Worker Issues
Mekong countries forge growth plan

National Affairs
Preserve natural environment and culture, PM advises
DPM calls for greater protection of forests, planting of more trees
US Congress delegations visit Laos to deepen cooperation
Prime Minister lauds work of SOS Children Villages
Government Considers, Approves 10 Draft Laws
Ministry pledges transparent exam system for new State employees
PM’s order pushes public service efficiency

Customs
Issue of illegally imported cars remains unresolved

Economics
Economic growth remains bright in medium term: World Bank
Job skills improving but higher standards needed: labour minister
22 Companies Invest in Thakhek Specific Economic Zone
Laos Experiencing Low Inflation Rate
Economists highlight opportunities, shortcomings of SEZs

Food & Agriculture
Japan Provides Over US$ 277,000 To Support Agriculture
Govt to stabilise agriculture, forestry sector growth
Laos farmers taught safe chemical use despite organic legacy

Health & Life Sciences
Japan Grants JPY 1.9-Billion Aid to Laos
U.S. Provides New Hospitals In Saravan And New Clinic In Xekong

ICT
PLAOSME.com: Laos' New E-Commerce Platform

Infrastructure
New terminal at Wattay airport slated for July opening
Updates from the Laos-China Railway Project
Vientiane-Pakxe Expressway feasibility study is underway
Agreement Reached On Compensation of Railway Project Affected Families
Chi Nai Mo Water Supply Plant to Receive Major Upgrade
Hongsa-Xiengman road completion rescheduled to end of year
Laos-Japan Friendship Bridge Opens in Xekong
Former Vang Vieng Airport to Become Tourist Destination
Laos seeks Thai support on new Mekong bridge
 

 
ARTICLE CLIPS
 
 
Regional Affairs

Laos and Thailand Cooperate on Migrant Worker Issues The Laotian Times 1st Mar 2018
The government of Thailand has promised support for Lao migrant workers living in the country, and will offer assistance to Lao workers who want to return home to Laos. The Thai government has said it will upgrade the nationality status of Lao workers in Thailand. The Thai Minister of Labor, Mr Adul Sangsingkeo, was in Vientiane on Monday to attend a bilateral meeting on labor issues.  He said that Thailand would increase assistance offered to Lao workers.

Mekong countries forge growth plan Bangkok Post 24th Feb 2018
Member countries of the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) are working to develop a master development plan for 2019-23 to strengthen sustainable economic growth and enact better economic management. Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak said the ad hoc committee working on ACMECS's master plan is scheduled to finalise it in April before submitting it for approval to the eighth ACMECS summit scheduled for June in Thailand. Thailand is chairman of ACMECS from October 2017 to June 2018.

National Affairs

Preserve natural environment and culture, PM advises Vientiane Times 7th Mar 2018
Laos should preserve and protect its natural environment and its cultural traditions if the country wants to attract more foreign visitors. Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith has called on authorities to intensify their efforts to preserve Laos’ scenic beauty, which is considered key to the development of tourism. Speaking to officials from the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism recently, Mr Thongloun highlighted some of Laos’ natural wonders, saying these attract a huge number of tourists annually.

DPM calls for greater protection of forests, planting of more trees Vientiane Times 5th Mar 2018
Deforestation is triggering concern and underlining the critical need to better protect forests and plant more trees, the Deputy Prime Minister has told authorities in charge. In his opening speech at a national meeting in Vientiane yesterday, Dr Sonexay Siphandone told participants to redouble their efforts to increase forest cover to 70 percent by 2020 as targeted. The three-day meeting titled “Tree Plantation Promotion to Increase Forest Cover to 70 percent by 2020” brought together representatives from provinces across the country in charge of forestry affairs.

US Congress delegations visit Laos to deepen cooperation Vientiane Times 26th Feb 2018
Two high-level delegations from the US Congress visited Laos from February 21-25 with the aim of promoting friendship and cooperation. The US Congress members met with high ranking officials of the Lao government and discussed progress on bilateral cooperation. According to a press release from US Embassy in Vientiane, the first delegation, from the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, arrived on February 21. It was led by its Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, Republican Representative from New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District. Pete Aguilar, the Democratic Congressman from California’s 31st Congressional District also joined the delegation.

Prime Minister lauds work of SOS Children Villages Vientiane Times 25th Feb 2018
Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith on Saturday lauded SOS Children’s Villages Laos for the achievements the Villages have attained over the past 25 years. The premier, who is also honorary President of the SOS Children’s Villages Laos Management Committee, extended his compliments in a ceremony in Vientiane to mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Villages.

Government Considers, Approves 10 Draft Laws KPL: Lao News Agency 25th Feb 2018
(KPL) The government approved in its extraordinary meeting held last week 10 draft laws and amendments to laws including draft laws on Public Debt Management; Value Added Tax, Bank of the Lao PDR, Economic Dispute Settlement, Social Security, Signs, Military Officers of Lao People’s Army, Civil Aviation, Lao Front for National Development, and Veterans’ Federation. The draft laws are expected to be submitted to the 5th ordinary session of the National Assembly which is scheduled to take place in April, according to Government Spokesperson Chaleun Yiapaoheu.

Ministry pledges transparent exam system for new State employees Vientiane Times 20th Feb 2018
The Ministry of Home Affairs has been instructed to study and enact appropriate legislation to streamline the examination process when hiring new State employees. The exams must be conducted in a transparent manner and candidates treated fairly to ensure that more qualified and skilled personnel are employed by the government. Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Mr Khammoune Viphongxay told Vientiane Times on Monday the government will spell out which sectors need new employees and the kinds of qualifications required.

PM’s order pushes public service efficiency Vientiane Times 14th Feb 2018
Analysing the need for staff and defining clear job descriptions in government departments are some of the critical factors to ensure a higher quality of government service delivery and greater satisfaction for the people. This statement was one of those in the Prime Minister’s Order No.03/PM, dated February 9, 2018, regarding the improvement of the government’s organisational structure and the recruitment of new state employees. Under the five-page order, relevant sectors must inspect, review and re-define job descriptions and job demands in their departments. Those sectors that recruited more officials than necessary must have these staff seconded or transferred to offices with shortages of employees.

Customs

Issue of illegally imported cars remains unresolved Vientiane Times 20th Feb 2018
The illegal import of cars continues to be a problem in Laos despite orders issued by the government last year to crack down on the issue. To legalise illegally imported vehicles, owners are required to pay taxes or tariffs to the government at rates determined by the committee in-charge of the matter. The government has warned that those who fail to pay the tariffs within the deadline stated in relevant regulations will have their vehicles seized.

Economics

Economic growth remains bright in medium term: World Bank Vientiane Times 8th Mar 2018
A World Bank economist team has projected that economic growth in Laos will start to recover from 2019 onwards after major hydropower plants begin commercial operation this year. The team, led by senior country economist Mr Evgenij Najdov, made this projection in the December edition of the Lao PDR Economic Monitor, posted on the official website of the bank. “Growth (of the Lao economy) in 2018 is projected to further ease at 6.6 percent before picking up slightly in 2019-2020,” the economists were quoted as saying in the report titled “Lowering risks, reviving growth”.

Job skills improving but higher standards needed: labour minister Vientiane Times 7th Mar 2018
Labour authorities and experts in Laos need to do more to improve workers’ skills in response to the needs of the job market. This must be the focus in the future, even though skill levels have improved to some extent and more has been done to protect workers’ rights, especially over the past year. These were the observations of the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Dr Khampheng Saysompheng, when giving an interview on Monday about the progress made by the country’s workforce. Young people now had more opportunities to improve their skills thanks to the ministry’s improved labour policies, he said.

22 Companies Invest in Thakhek Specific Economic Zone KPL: Lao News Agency 6th Mar 2018
(KPL) Twenty two local and foreign companies have signed agreements with relevant authorities to invest in the Thakhek Specific Economic Zone (TSEZ) since 2012. Almost 600 plots of land of local people have been reportedly affected by the 75-year project. The compensation for people’s property loss caused by the concessional project will cost the developer more than 25 billion kip.

Laos Experiencing Low Inflation Rate The Laotian Times 28th Feb 2018
The inflation rate in Laos remains low, despite a rising cost of living, according to the Lao National Statistics Bureau. The bureau announced recently that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was 109.91 points in January, demonstrating only a 0.27 percent difference with the previous month. This difference moved the year-on-year change of the CPI up by 0.97 percent, according to the bureau’s report.

Economists highlight opportunities, shortcomings of SEZs Vientiane Times 26th Feb 2018
Economists have noted that the establishment of special economic zones (SEZ) by the government has offered both opportunities and challenges for the country’s economic development. Last week, the government called on the National Economic Research Institute –the country’s top think-tank - to carry out a study to identify these opportunities and shortcomings.

Food & Agriculture

Japan Provides Over US$ 277,000 To Support Agriculture KPL: Lao News Agency 6th Mar 2018
(KPL) The Japanese government has provided grant assistance worth US$ 277,076 to support importance of agriculture and natural resources management in the Lao PDR. The signing ceremony for the grant contract for this project was held at the Japanese Embassy to Laos on Mar 6 between Mr Takeshi Hikihara, Japanese Ambassador to Laos, and Mr Takatoshi Hasebe, Secretary General of the Japan International Volunteer Center (JVC), a Japanese non-profit organization.

Govt to stabilise agriculture, forestry sector growth Vientiane Times 6th Mar 2018
The agriculture, forestry and rural development sector will strive to expand at a sustainable level of 2.8 percent this year, accounting for 15.73 percent of GDP. To attain this target, the government, especially the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, will continue to implement projects of national priority such as commercial production and food security. Agriculture and forestry experts from around the country are currently meeting with government officials, provincial deputy governors and development partners in Vientiane to review achievements in the agriculture, forestry and rural development sector, and to discuss plans for development this year.

Laos farmers taught safe chemical use despite organic legacy ABC (Australian Broadcast Corporation) 2nd Mar 2018
A Laos farmer collects insects as part of a workshop on weeds, pests and diseases held by the Crawford Fund. A Laos farmer collects insects as part of a workshop on weeds, pests and diseases held by the Crawford Fund. The ideological battle between organic and chemical-reliant farming has long raged in the developed world, and it's now taking place in developing nations, particularly throughout South-East Asia.

Health & Life Sciences

Japan Grants JPY 1.9-Billion Aid to Laos KPL: Lao News Agency 7th Mar 2018
(KPL) The Government of Japan has decided to provide grant aid amounting to JPY 1.94 billion, about US$17.7 million to Laos to fund the improvement of Setthathirath Hospital and Champassak Provincial Hospital. A signing ceremony for the Exchange of Notes on the grant aid was held at the Prime Minister’s Office, Vientiane between Mr Takeshi Hikihara, Japanese Ambassador to Laos and Mrs Khamphao Ernthavanh, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. Minister to Prime Minister’s Office, Mr Alounkeo Kittikhoun and Adviser to the Prime Minister of Japan, Mr Kentaro Sonoura and senior officials of both sides witnessed the event.

U.S. Provides New Hospitals In Saravan And New Clinic In Xekong KPL: Lao News Agency 6th Mar 2018
(KPL) The United States Embassy and United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) formally presented three new district hospitals and one village clinic to Toumlan and Samouey districts of Saravan Province and Thateng district in Xekong Province. The handover ceremonies were held on Feb 27, 2018 in Toumlan and Thateng, and on Feb 28, 2018 in Samouay. Each project built and handed over a new district medical building on the sites of existing functional hospitals or clinic facilities.

ICT

PLAOSME.com: Laos' New E-Commerce Platform The Laotian Times 3rd Mar 2018
On the 2nd of March, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOIC) together with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) organized an event in Paksé, Champassack to spread the word on how to use the online e-commerce platform, plaosme.com. Industry and Commerce Vice Minister Somchit Inthamith and ADB Laos Country Director Yasushi Negishi were present for the event as the website was showcased in front of various SME owners in the four southern provinces.

Infrastructure

New terminal at Wattay airport slated for July opening Vientiane Times 5th Mar 2018
The enlargement of Wattay International Airport in Vientiane is now 83 percent complete and is on track to meet a projected end-of-June finishing date. Head of the Wattay International Airport Expansion Project, Mr Sengsangdouane Chanthavong, who is Deputy Director of the Aerodrome Division, Department of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Public Works and Transport, told Vientiane Times the new facilities would become operational in July. According to the contract, the project was set to take 1001 days but it now appears likely that the job will be complete 60 days before the planned deadline. Work on the new terminal began in December 2015.

Updates from the Laos-China Railway Project The Laotian Times 28th Feb 2018
The Laos-China Railway project rushes forward as residents get ready for the tremendous changes this new connectivity will bring to their homes. People residing within the parameters of the railway are certain that their livelihoods will be affected. The construction of the US$6 billion railway, which will run from northern Laos to Vientiane, is on schedule for completion by 2021. This is the first overseas rail route linking Laos to China’s network. Currently, the only railroad in Laos is a 3.5 km extension of Thailand’s state railway network.

Vientiane-Pakxe Expressway feasibility study is underway Vientiane Times 25th Feb 2018
Four construction companies from Laos and China have been selected by the government to conduct surveys, feasibility studies and detailed designs for a Vientiane-Pakxe Expressway Project that is set to reduce road travel times by three hours when complete. The 585 km-expressway from Vientiane to Champassak Province is set to comprise four 3.5 metre wide lanes with a total carriageway width of 23 metres.

Agreement Reached On Compensation of Railway Project Affected Families KPL: Lao News Agency 25th Feb 2018
(KPL) Laos-China Railway Project and relevant authorities have reached agreement on the compensation of families affected by the multibillion-dollar project and asked the families to open account with Banque Pour Le Commerce Exterieur Lao to receive the compensations. The agreement was reached at a meeting held on 22 Feb in Luang Prabang in the presence of Deputy Minister of Public Works and Transport and Chairman of Laos-China Railway Project Managment Committee Lattanamany Khounnivong​, provincial mediation committees, representatives of provincial departments of public works and transport and relevant authorities from Vientiane, Luang Namtha, Oudomxay, Luang Prabang and Vientiane (province).

Chi Nai Mo Water Supply Plant to Receive Major Upgrade The Laotian Times 23rd Feb 2018
On the 21st of February, a procurement agreement was signed for the US $92-million expansion of Chi Nai Mo Water Supply Plant in Vientiane Capital. The project will be funded with a low-interest loan from the JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency). The signing ceremony took place at Crowne Plaza Vientiane between Director of the Vientiane Public Works and Transport Department Mr Dethsongkham Thammavong, Director of the Lao Water Supply Enterprise Mr Khampheuy Vongsakhamphoui and Director of Oriental Consultants Global Asia Ryohei Ishii, in the gracious presence of Vientiane Capital Vice Mayor Mr Keophilavan Aphailath, Deputy Minister of Public Works and Transport Mrs Vilaikham Phosalath, Deputy Minister of Finance Mrs Thipphakone Chanthavongsa, representatives of JICA and other officials.

Hongsa-Xiengman road completion rescheduled to end of year Vientiane Times 20th Feb 2018
The 113km National Road No. 4B, which links the two provinces of Xayaboury and Luang Prabang, is expected to be delayed despite over 70 percent of the project having already been completed. According to the project agreement, the road, which began in 2015, should be finished by April this year but it is expected that construction will be extended due to delays associated with landslides during the last rainy season.

Laos-Japan Friendship Bridge Opens in Xekong KPL:Lao News Agency 20th Feb 2018
(KPL) A Laos-Japan Friendship Bridge spanning the Xekong River was officially opened for public use on Feb 12 following more than three years of construction. Built with US$ 16.20 million, a financial grant from the Japanese government, the bridge is located in the district of Lamam, Xekong Province.

Former Vang Vieng Airport to Become Tourist Destination The Laotian Times 15th Feb 2018
Earlier this week, Vientiane Province signed an agreement with Ichin Engineering & Construction Lao Company, authorizing the latter to invest USD $200 million into developing the former Vang Vieng airport into a tourist destination. Attending the signing ceremony were Vidong Sayasone, Vientiane Province Governor, Vientiane Province Planning and Investment Department Director Soukun Vilayrath, Ichin Engineering & Construction Lao Company President Liu Phuc Quang and other local government officials.

Laos seeks Thai support on new Mekong bridge Bangkok Post 15th Feb 2018
The Lao government has approached Thailand for financial support for the construction of a new bridge connecting the two countries. Vientiane had forwarded the request in the form of grants or loans to the Neighbouring Countries Economic Development Cooperation Agency, the Vientiane Times reported, citing a source at the Lao Ministry of Public Works and Transport. “It depends on the Thai side to consider which form of financial support -- the form of a 30-70 grant, low-interest loan or full grant,” the source said. “After working with the Thai authorities, a full grant is unlikely,” the source added.