Laos Update: September 20, 2018

Laos Update | September 20, 2018
Authors: Riley Smith, Ella Duangkaew and Monica Chritton
 
LOOKING AHEAD
 
 
October 30-31, 2018: Mission to the ASEAN Ministers of Energy Meeting (AMEM):  Register here for the US-ASEAN Business Council's Business Mission to the 36th ASEAN Ministers on Energy Meeting (AMEM) in Singapore. The mission will take place Tuesday, October 30, to Wednesday, October 31, and will consist of bilateral meetings with ASEAN Energy Ministers and relevant AMEM Dialogue Partners. The deadline for receipt of registration and mission materials is Tuesday, October 16. 
 
THE COUNCIL'S TAKE
 
 

Laos PM Announces Resumption of Hydropower Dam Projects
On September 12, Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisolith announced at a World Economic Forum on ASEAN (WEF-ASEAN) panel that Laos will continue moving forward with its hydropower dam building, but with intensified scrutiny and greater study of wind and solar power. The Prime Minister also said he did not agree with the “battery” of Southeast Asia label that has been widely used to describe the country’s ambitions to supply its neighbors’ growing energy needs and double its energy production by 2020. The decision to resume hydropower dam building indicates that Laos continues to prioritize economic growth over environmental precaution. The World Bank estimates that Laos’ GDP will grow 6.7%, which is above average for the ASEAN region. The energy sector, especially now that hydropower dam building will start again, is likely to be an important contributor to this growth.

The Prime Minister’s remarks at the WEF-ASEAN follows the catastrophic dam collapse in the Attapeu province on July 24 that released 5 billion cubic meters of water and caused widespread damage to 13 villages, leaving 35 dead, according to official government numbers (see our previous Update on the dam collapse here for more detail). The Laos government took several strong measures in response, including announcing that it would suspend all new hydropower dam projects, renew the inspection of existing ones with a special task force and establish an additional special task force designated with managing national crises (see the previous Update on the government response here for more detail).

Despite research demonstrating that continued hydropower dam development may be costly and pose continued environmental risks for the country, the Prime Minister’s decision to continue such development is unsurprising given the importance of the energy sector as a growth market for Laos. The sector became particularly important following the historic signing of the tripartite electricity sharing agreement with Malaysia and Thailand (see the Council’s previous Update here for more detail). Energy will continue to be a complicated issue for the Laos and its neighbors given the tension that exists between Laos’ energy needs and policies and environmental concerns.

 
 
IN THIS UPDATE
 
 

Regional Affairs
Brunei Donates USD 100,000 To Aid Flood Victims In Laos
Lao, Vietnamese leaders highly value ties
Deputy PM Attends 15th China-ASEAN Expo
WEF: PM Thongloun Highlights Challenges Of Industry 4.0 Revolution
Lao, Chinese Museums Enhance Cooperation
Thai Products Promoted In Laos
Vietnam implements biggest mining project in Laos
 

National Affairs
Gov’t-Governer Meeting Emphasizes Flood Issues
Xekong floods wreak havoc, affecting over 5,000 families
Laos to conduct next population census in 2020
Typhoon, tropical storm tracking towards Laos
MRC Ready to Support Review and Update of Lao Hydropower Strategy and Plan
Reflooding Hampers Rescue Efforts In Attapeu’s Sanamxay

Customs
Laos announces adoption of new Asean tariff code
Laos adopts ASEAN tariff code

Defense & Security
Hun Sen Orders Troop Withdraw From Disputed Areas

Economics
IFC Continues To Support Lao PDR To Improve Investment Climate, Promote Sustainable And Inclusive Growth

Energy
Laos’ PM Thongloun Confirms Hydropower Policy at WEF on ASEAN
Laos to press on with dam-building after deadly collapse: PM
How better hydropower planning can avert future disasters on the Mekong
Lao’s Sekong River under siege
Laos Is Second Most Expensive ASEAN Country to Buy Fuel

Financial Services
Automated payment of land tax to start next year

Food & Agriculture
Laos facing food security challenges following extreme weather
ANZ Laos Holds Food, Beverage and Agriculture Forum

Health & Life Sciences
Agriculture ministry seeking funds to repair damaged irrigation systems
EU-UNICEF Handover Vehicles To Government To Monitor Nutrition Interventions

ICT
Laos Central Bank Warns Public Against Cryptocurrency Trading

Infrastructure
Laos drafts law to regulate railway development

Travel & Tourism
Ecotourism Investment in Savannakhet Promotes Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction
Luang Prabang Plays Host to Sustainable Tourism Solutions Expo

 
ARTICLE CLIPS
 
 
Regional Affairs

Brunei Donates USD 100,000 To Aid Flood Victims In Laos Lao News Agency 18th Sep 2018
On Sep 13, Brunei Ambassador to Laos, Mr Na'aim Salleh, presented USD 100,000 ​to the Lao government to help flood victims in Sanamxay district, Attapeu Province and other parts of the country.

Lao, Vietnamese leaders highly value ties Vientiane Times 14th Sep 2018
Visiting Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith and Vietnamese leaders have said they highly value the traditional friendly relations, special solidarity and comprehensive cooperation between the two countries. The Lao Premier and his delegation visited Hanoi, Vietnam, from September 11-13 to attend the 27th World Economic Forum (27th WEF) on Asean. Prime Minister Thongloun, who is a member of the Politburo of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, on September 13 called on the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Nguyen Phu Trọng.

Deputy PM Attends 15th China-ASEAN Expo Lao News Agency 13th Sep 2018
Deputy Prime Minister Somdy Douangdy has attended the 15th China-ASEAN Expo held in Nanning, China’s Guangxi Province between Sep 12 and 15. Addressing the opening session of the expo on Sep 12, Mr Somdy said that this China-ASEAN Expo is supportive to the new road of the 21st century innovation to promote China and ASEAN and the celebration of the year of strategic partnership between China and ASEAN.

WEF: PM Thongloun Highlights Challenges Of Industry 4.0 Revolution Lao News Agency 13th Sep 2018
Addressing the 27th World Economic Forum ASEAN held in Hanoi, Vietnam on Sep 12, PM Thongloun Sisoulith raised challenges and opportunities amid era of industry 4.0 revolution that Laos and other ASEAN members are facing as well as the country’s preparation for handling such challenges over years to come.

Lao, Chinese Museums Enhance Cooperation Lao News Agency 13th Sep 2018
The Lao National Museum has inked an agreement with the Nanning Museum of the People’s Republic’s of China to strengthen cooperation. The MoU was signed in Nanning, China on Sep 12, 2018 by Director of the Lao National Museum Phetmalayvanh Keobounma and Director of the Nanning Museum Zhang Xiaojian.

Thai Products Promoted In Laos Lao News Agency 12th Sep 2018
Over 50 producers and entrepreneurs from southern provinces of Thailand have participated in the Southern Thailand Best Product @ Vientiane event held in Vientiane Capital. To be held through Sep 15 at Vientiane Center, Vientiane Capital, the exposition aims to promote trade and investment between Vientiane Capital of Laos and the southern provinces of Thailand namely Songkhra, Satun, Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat.

Vietnam implements biggest mining project in Laos Vietnam Plus 11th Sep 2018
The Lao Government and Viet Phuong Group (VPG) of Vietnam on September 11 signed a contract for exploiting and processing bauxite ore and building an alumina factory in Sekong province of Laos. With total investment of about 650 million USD, this will be Vietnam’s biggest investment project in the mining industry of Laos. The project is located in Dakcheung district of Sekong and will cover nearly 100 sq.km of land. It is part of the roadmap for implementing the agreement on economic, cultural and scientific-technical cooperation between the Vietnamese and Lao Governments.

National Affairs

Gov’t-Governer Meeting Emphasizes Flood Issues Lao News Agency 18th Sep 2018
The second meeting between the cabinet and provincial governors has focused its discussion on flood situation and actions taken in response to the disasters as 17 provinces and Vientiane Capital have encountered flooding since July.

Xekong floods wreak havoc, affecting over 5,000 families Vientiane Times 14th Sep 2018
Damage to property in four districts of Xekong province has been estimated at over 60 billion kip after more than 5,000 families were affected by recent floods. Heavy rain lashed the districts of Dakcheung, Lamam, Thataeng and Kaleum, where a total of 5,584 families suffered varying degrees of property damage, according to authorities. Deputy Director of the province’s Planning and Investment Department, Mr Khampakone Outhenthapanya, said that in July and August rivers burst their banks and flooded local communities.

Laos to conduct next population census in 2020 Vientiane Times 14th Sep 2018
Laos will conduct a population census in 2020 to provide updated information for indicators, baselines and targets to be incorporated in the 2021-2025 National Socio-economic Development Plan. The population census is used to set targets in national development plans, and directly contributes to efforts to ensure Laos graduates from Least Developed Country status. Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment and Head of the Lao Statistics Bureau, Dr Samaichanh Boupha, told a workshop titled Regional Consultation on Census Methodology that quality data was of great importance for planners, policy makers and data users in all countries and sectors.

Typhoon, tropical storm tracking towards Laos Vientiane Times 14th Sep 2018
The north and central regions of the country have been put on alert for heavy downpours after weather forecasters warned that Typhoon Mangkhut and Tropical Storm Barijat are expected to pass over Laos from September 17-18. Areas at high risk of damage from storm activity include the capital and the provinces of Phongsaly, Luang Namtha, Bokeo, Oudomxay, Huaphan, Luang Prabang, Xieng Khuang, Xaysomboun, Xayaboury, Vientiane, Borikhamxay, Khammuan and Savannakhet. The weather alert was issued by the Meteorology and Hydrology Department.

MRC Ready to Support Review and Update of Lao Hydropower Strategy and Plan The Laotian Times 16th Aug 2018
The Mekong River Commission (MRC) has welcomed the highly applauded and progressive decision of the Prime Minister of Lao PDR, following an extra-ordinary meeting of his cabinet on 6 August 2018, that the country will review all existing and under-construction dams and suspend the consideration of all new hydropower investments considering the Xepian Xenamnoy dam break. According to the press release by the Lao government, the review and suspension will also afford the country to update its hydropower strategy and plan.

Reflooding Hampers Rescue Efforts In Attapeu’s Sanamxay KPL: Lao News Agency 16th Aug 2018
Heavy rains over the past couple days have hampered efforts to rescue and aid flood victims in Sanamxay district, Attapeu Province. Travel between the provincial municipal centre and distant districts has been disrupted. Only airlifted aid can access flood victims in Sanamxay district. Authorities are on standby to evacuate people at shelter centres to higher ground. “Today, Aug 16, 2018, the water level in the Xekong river is rising and flooding lowland areas and two bridges in the municipality of the district thus hampering transport. Specifically the land transport of relief items ​to shelter centers in Tamoyod, Dokbua, and Pindong is now paralysed except airlift,” said Sanamxay governor Bounhome Phommasane

Customs

Laos announces adoption of new Asean tariff code The Nation 23rd Aug 2018
According to the announcement, posted on the Lao Trade Portal, an official website that provides information on trade services, Laos has put into practice the Asean Harmonised Tariff Nomenclature 2017 since May.

Laos adopts ASEAN tariff code Xinhua 23rd Aug 2018
The Lao Ministry of Finance said it has adopted a new ASEAN tariff code, giving a signal that Laos is ready to become part of the single regional market of 600 million consumers, local daily Vientiane Times reported Thursday. According to the announcement, posted on the Lao Trade Portal, an official website that provides information on trade services, Laos has put into practice the ASEAN Harmonized Tariff Nomenclature 2017 since May. The adoption of the ASEAN tariff code is in line with the Lao government's policy to implement regional obligations to which the country is committed, the Finance Ministry said. The updated version of the ASEAN tariff code provides a clearer definition of goods and services in which ASEAN member countries are trading. This will make it easier for Lao customs officials to implement the government policy to facilitate cross-border trade and become part of the regional market.

Defense & Security

Hun Sen Orders Troop Withdraw From Disputed Areas Lao News Agency 18th Sep 2018
Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen has ordered the withdraw of his troops from disputed border area located between Attapeu of Laos and Strung Treng of Cambodia.

Economics

IFC Continues To Support Lao PDR To Improve Investment Climate, Promote Sustainable And Inclusive Growth Lao News Agency 10th Sep 2018
IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, is accelerating its support to the Lao government in improving the climate for investment and doing business in the country. A more predictable and transparent business environment will help attract more foreign direct investment (FDI), generate jobs, and promote inclusive economic growth. A new advisory agreement was signed on Sep 7 between IFC and the Investment Promotion Department, Ministry of Planning and Investment, and the Customs Department, Ministry of Finance. The agreement aims to enhance the investment policy framework, its implementation, and streamline business regulations, which will improve ease of doing business in the Lao PDR.

Energy

Laos’ PM Thongloun Confirms Hydropower Policy at WEF on ASEAN Laotian Times 13th Sep 2018
International experts continue investigative efforts alongside Lao regulators looking into the causes of the fatal Xe Pian Xe Nam Noy dam collapse in Attapeu province on July 23, Laos’ PM Thongloun on Wednesday confirmed to an audience of delegates from the ASEAN region and beyond in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi. PM Thongloun’s response came in following the session moderator’s question on the topic at the World Economic Forum on ASEAN being held from September 11-13.

Laos to press on with dam-building after deadly collapse: PM Channel NewsAsia 12th Sep 2018
Laos' premier on Wednesday (Sep 12) said the Communist country will press on with its ambitious hydropower strategy after a dam collapse killed dozens, but vowed to intensify scrutiny on the lucrative mega projects. The rare public comments from prime minister Thongloun Sisoulith came during a World Economic Forum panel in Hanoi, weeks after July's dam disaster in Attapeu province. An official tally given by Laos' secretive government said 35 people died in the collapse of the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy saddle dam, a Korean-built structure which had not yet been completed.

How better hydropower planning can avert future disasters on the Mekong Thomson Reuters Foundation News 12th Sep 2018
The collapse of the Xepian-Xe Nam hydropower dam in Sanamxay district of Attapeu Province, Lao PDR on July 23 is a major tragedy that took the lives of at least 34 Laotians, with at least 100 more still missing and thousands displaced. Some 50 days on, this disaster has come under intense scrutiny in part because the link between the causes of the disaster, human actions and development decisions are so clearly visible. Although the area experienced heavy monsoon rains in the weeks leading up to the flood, an inundation of this speed and scale was clearly driven by the dam failure. Yet a key unanswered question remains: was this a failure to plan and account for ‘extreme’ monsoon rain events, or a failure of dam-building implementation?

Lao’s Sekong River under siege The ASEAN Post 7th Sep 2018
In serving as the "Battery of Asia" to its power-hungry neighbours, Lao PDR is cramming dozens of dams onto its network of rivers. With 46 currently operating hydropower plants with a capacity of 6,400 megawatt (MW), and another 54 under construction and set to start operating by 2020, Lao PDR targets the generation of a whopping 28,000 MW of power in just two years.

Laos Is Second Most Expensive ASEAN Country to Buy Fuel Laotian Times 26th Aug 2018
An official from the Ministry of Energy and Mines revealed that Laos placed second in the list of the most expensive ASEAN countries in which to buy fuel. The government officer released the startling statistic (dated May 2018) during a workshop aimed at sharing information and knowledge about electric vehicles and its application in and relevance to the Lao market. The workshop was organized by the Transport Department of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport and sponsored by EVLAO and CHOSEN Energy.

Financial Services

Automated payment of land tax to start next year Asia News Network 29th Aug 2018
Finance authorities expect to begin collecting land tax through banks from next year in a bid to modernise tax payment through the use of an electronic system. The new land tax payment system will be similar to the way road tax is paid through the Banque pour le Commerce Exterieur Lao Public (BCEL), according to officials at the Taxation Department, Ministry of Finance.

Food & Agriculture

Laos facing food security challenges following extreme weather The Nation 12th Sep 2018
Laos’ attempts to strengthen food security are facing major challenges after almost 600 irrigation projects were affected by heavy flooding during tropical storms Son-tinh and Bebinca last month. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry reported that storms flooded low-lying areas in six northern provinces, three central provinces including Vientiane, and two southern provinces, damaging or destroying more than 1 million hectares of crops and fisheries.

ANZ Laos Holds Food, Beverage and Agriculture Forum Laotian Times 6th Sep 2018
Improved domestic cross-border transport and logistics, coupled with widening and deepening demand for clean, green vegetables and fruit both in neighboring China and across the emerging economies of Asia presents a host of potential niche opportunities for Laos to capitalize upon, an audience in Vientiane has heard. Laos’ geographical position, economic potential, road and rail transport development and relatively high rate of rural dwellers make the need for a more productive agricultural sector inevitable and imperative as well as desirable, the ANZ Food, Beverage and Agriculture Forum was told in the capital.

Health & Life Sciences

Agriculture ministry seeking funds to repair damaged irrigation systems Vientiane Times 14th Sep 2018
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry will accelerate cooperation with provincial officials in seeking funding to repair flood-affected irrigation systems and help farmers plant dry season crops. Almost 600 irrigation projects have been affected by heavy flooding that resulted from tropical storms Son-tinh and Bebinca last month.

EU-UNICEF Handover Vehicles To Government To Monitor Nutrition Interventions KPL: Lao News Agency 16th Aug 2018
European Union (EU) Ambassador Leo Faber, and Representative UNICEF Lao PDR Octavian Bivol, handed over on August 3, 2018 a total of 11 cars and 85 motorbikes to Minister of Health Assoc. Prof. Dr Bounkong Syhavong, as part of the Partnership for Improved Nutrition in the Lao PDR. These vehicles will improve the capacity of the Provincial Nutrition Committee Secretariats to conduct monitoring activities related to the implementation of nutrition actions on the ground.

ICT

Laos Central Bank Warns Public Against Cryptocurrency Trading CryptoCoinsNews 3rd Sep 2018
Laos’ central bank has published a notice cautioning the public against cryptocurrency trading and their usage in payments. In a notice [PDF], dated 29 August, the Bank of Laos (BOL) said the public is warned against the use of “unregulated” cryptocurrencies, specifically naming Bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin as examples. Addressed to merchants, traders and residents, the notice also urged citizens to research and understand any digital assets. The notice warned against the purchase and sale, or trading of digital assets, talking up the risks in crypto-related investments.

Infrastructure

Laos drafts law to regulate railway development Xinhua News 13th Sep 2018
Lao policy-makers are drafting a law that provides guidelines for the efficient development of a railway network and its commercial operation, to maximize the benefits of rail transport and drive socio-economic development. The newly-drafted law, which is being canvassed to sound out public opinion, also seeks to offer early and reasonable compensation for people who will have to relocate when railways are built, local daily Vientiane Times reported on Thursday.

Travel & Tourism

Ecotourism Investment in Savannakhet Promotes Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction Lao News Agency 18th Sep 2018
Lao PDR’s development has been rapid during the last decade, largely funded by income from natural resources driving the bulk of economic growth. The Government is promoting responsible investment across the country to ensure that quality investments benefit all of Lao society, fostering green development and sustainable use of natural resources, in accordance with the 8th National Socio-Economic Development Plan.

Luang Prabang Plays Host to Sustainable Tourism Solutions Expo Laotian Times 11th Sep 2018
Saving money or saving the planet? Either way, travel lovers, tourism industry professionals, and their suppliers will have more reasons to be in Luang Prabang from September 14-15. Sustainable Tourism Solutions Expo will bring together hospitality businesses and vendors of sustainable products, technology, and services to descend on the UNESCO World Heritage-Listed town.