Laos Update: June 26, 2019

Laos Update | June 26, 2019
Authors: Riley Smith, Ella Duangkaew, Chase Blazek, Elizabeth Rickert
 
LOOKING AHEAD
 
 
  • Planning Call for 2019 TELMIN Plenary Luncheon SessionJuly 2A planning call for the 2019 TELMIN Plenary Luncheon Session will take place on July 2 from 9:00-10:00AM SGT (July 1 from 9:00-10:00PM ET). Click here to register. Dial-in details and a call agenda will be forthcoming. The purpose of the call is to develop a concept note per the Lao Government's request for an initial draft by July 15. Please come prepared to discuss ideas and make decisions regarding the format and topics for the luncheon. Following the call, we will develop a concept note and send it to the Government of Laos on or before their July 15 deadline. Please contact Ella Duangkaew (eduangkaew@usasean.org) or Jamie Lim (jlim@usasean.org) with any questions.
 
THE COUNCIL'S TAKE
 
 

Laos Expands Hydropower Exports Across ASEAN

Laos is looking to increase the amount of hydropower they produce and export to their ASEAN neighbors. Laos is the largest exporter of hydropower in the region, mostly to their neighbors in the Mekong Region. Currently, they export about 2/3 of the hydropower they produce. The other 1/3 goes towards Laos’ energy mix, something they are trying to diversify. Laos is hoping to have 90% of the country electrified by the end of 2020. The companies who operate the hydropower in Laos are mostly state-owned but there are opportunities to break into the market, as several Thai and French companies have done. Since Laos desires a more diverse energy mix and has no oil or gas resources, for which they rely on imports from their neighbors, there is a market in Laos for their growing energy grid.

Laos is hoping to increase their energy exports to Vietnam from 300MW of electricity to more than 5,000 MW by 2030. Negotiations are ongoing, and a signed agreement between the two countries is expected soon. Laos has also agreed to increase their electricity exports in Thailand from 4,260 MW to 9,000MW by 2025. To do so, Laos signed electricity trading pacts for four projects with Thailand. Laos is also expanding their exports into a new country, Malaysia. They have agreed to sell 100 MW to Malaysia via Thailand.

The Lao government has also agreed to increase their electricity export in Cambodia by more than 1,800 MW via two new transmission lines. Myanmar and Laos are adding two new transmission lines for electricity exports as well. All of the aforementioned projects will require feasibility studies to be completed by both the Laos government and by the recipient government.

These plans are aligned with the Prime Minister’s September 2018 decision to resume all hydropower projects (see our Laos Update here for more information), despite concerns of the Government’s capacity to manage their ambitious hydropower agenda following the devastating Attapeu dam break (for more information, see our Laos Update here). These plans may help advance the Government’s hydropower agenda, particularly to increase economic growth through foreign investment in these projects, but it will be critical for these projects to have greater diligence in safety and capacity inspections to ensure another disaster does not occur.

Ministry of Industry and Commerce Pursuing Undocumented Businesses

On June 12, Mrs. Khemmani Pholsena, Minister of Industry and Commerce, submitted guidance ordering provincial and district-level industry and commerce departments to deal with the large number of foreign-owned businesses operating without proper documentation. These departments must designate officials to inspect foreign-owned businesses for compliance with Lao regulations. Business owners found not in compliance may be subject to fines totaling 20 million kip (US$2300) and have their businesses closed permanently. Any foreigners found engaging in business activities designated for Lao citizens only (e.g. barbers and beauty salons) will be reported to the government’s public security officials and may be deported.

After October 25, the Ministry will consult with local officials on the progress of implementation and adjust its strategy accordingly. This announcement is seen as one way the Lao Government can follow through on its promise to encourage private investment. Along with the June 12 decree, the Government put forth a list of businesses that will be subject to additional regulation and close monitoring. Given how extensively American businesses partner with local businesses in Laos, it will be important for American firms to ensure they are partnering with entities which conform completely with government registration processes. Such a thorough approach to business cooperation could incentivize local and central government authorities to support joint ventures even more by streamlining regulatory processes and strengthening private-public ties.

World Bank Assists Lao PDR in Achieving Sustainable National Development

On May 28, the World Bank credited the Lao Government with US$40 million to finance the Second Programmatic Green Growth Development Policy Operation (“the Second Operation”), which is meant to help the country sustain its impressive 7.9% growth rate from 2011-2015 while serving as a responsible steward of the environment. The First Operation, adopted in May 2017, was aimed at improving environmental protection while developing a green growth plan for the Lao economy. The Second Operation builds off these green growth plans and aims to help slow the growth of national debt while boosting sources of government revenue and stabilizing the financial sector. The “green” aspects of this Second Operation focus on protecting roads and other vital infrastructures from severe weather events (e.g. floods), managing natural resources, and dealing with pollution.

As outlined in the Government’s 8th Five-Year National Socio-Economic Development Plan (2016-2020), the Lao PDR aims to graduate out of its Least Developed Country (LDC) status while preserving its natural resources for future generations. Though details on these two operations are somewhat sparse, these programs have yielded early successes. For example, Nicola Pontara of the World Bank recently congratulated the Lao PDR for designating the country’s first national parks and enacting water laws to better manage river basins. While foreign business in Laos is partially restricted (see above for the Ministry of Industry and Commerce’s initiatives surrounding undocumented businesses), the Second Operation offers industry the opportunity to contribute to Laos infrastructure development needs as well as the country’s demand for green technologies, which can both improve worker productivity and decrease urban pollution. Moreover, the Government’s commitment to increase its Ease of Doing Business Ranking by eliminating tariffs, simplifying rules of origin, and harmonizing technical standards demonstrate the Government’s growing openness to global markets.

 
IN THIS UPDATE
 
 
Regional Affairs
ASEAN Business Awards Laos 2019 To Be Held In August
34th ASEAN Summit Opened In Bangkok
South And Southeast Asia Commodity Expo 2019 Kicks Off In Kunming

National Affairs
NA’s 7th Ordinary Session Closed
Lao Government Reacts To UN expert’s Misleading Report

Market Development
Commerce ministry addressing undocumented foreign businesses

Customs
Laos Swine Flu Outbreak Sees Thailand, China Ban Pig Imports
Laos Improves Trade Regulations for Foreign Companies

Defense & Security
Russian, Laotian servicemen to hold joint tank drills in December

Economics
Govt to focus on funding existing development projects
PM Highlights Economic Difficulties At NA’s 7th Ordinary Session

Energy
Solar power helps farmers in Attapeu save on electricity payments
Laos Builds On Green Growth Foundations With World Bank Support
Lao PM pledges to focus on sustainable hydropower development
Lao, South Korean business communities promote renewables investment
Laos gov’t set to reduce economic overreliance on natural resources
Laos ups electricity trade
Energy, mining projects need careful study: Lao PM
Lao gov't aims to lower electricity prices

Financial Services
Thai and Lao central banks ink MoU on banking supervision
Laos approves new law to safeguard local products
Everex Announces Collaboration With Lao Development Bank

Food & Agriculture
Pig imports from Laos banned over swine fever fear
Vietnam’s Vinamilk builds organic milk farm in Laos

Health & Life Sciences
UK provides over 36 billion kip for UXO clearance
Laos confirms first cases of African swine fever
British expertise advances Lao research
Dengue Claims 14 Lives Nationwide
Hundreds Of Monks Given Health Checkups
Reproductive Health, Rights And Choices For All

ICT
ICT Expo highlighting Laos’ digital expertise

Infrastructure
When climate action means better roads
Over 60 percent of Tanmixay-Sikeuth road upgrade completed
Can Laos manage its debt to China?
Too little, too late for the US around the Mekong? China’s already there
Thailand, Laos sign agreement on 5th friendship bridge across Mekong River
China’s belt and road criticised for ‘wasteful’ spending

Travel & Tourism
Laos To Launch Online eVisa Service in July
Five Tourist Attractions To Be Upgraded, Developed In Each Province
Over 250,000 Chinese Nationals Visit Laos
Region’s tourism ministers vow to boost cooperation
Laos to upgrade facilities to draw more overseas tourists
 
ARTICLE CLIPS
 
 
Regional Affairs

ASEAN Business Awards Laos 2019 To Be Held In August KPL - Lao News Agency 26th Jun 2019
The ASEAN Business Awards Laos 2019 will be held in coming August to recognize outstanding local businesses and use them as champions to spread the knowledge of doing business in the ASEAN Economic Community. The winner will be announced on Aug 20 and the ABAL prize ceremony will be held on Sep 6 in Vientiane Capital. The winner will be given a chance to compete at the regional event ASEAN Business Awards 2019 to be held in Bangkok, Thailand in November.

34th ASEAN Summit Opened In Bangkok KPL - Lao News Agency 25th Jun 2019
Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith and other ASEAN leaders attended the opening ceremony of the 34th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, on Jun 23. In his opening remarks, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha of Thailand, which holds the ASEAN Chair in 2019, reviewed the formation and development of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), noting that during this process, the bloc has proved itself as an important factor helping its members to swiftly recover from and overcome many challenges like financial crises and natural disasters.

South And Southeast Asia Commodity Expo 2019 Kicks Off In Kunming KPL - Lao News Agency 12th Jun 2019
The 2019 South and Southeast Asia Commodity Expo and Investment Fair (SSACEIF) were launched today at the Dianchi International Conference and Exhibition Center, Kunming, China’s Yunnan Province. Under the themed “Gather at the Opening-up Frontier Together, Build the Radiation Center Together and Share Prosperity and Development Together,” the expo showcases a wide range of commodities from South and Southeast Asian countries...

National Affairs

NA’s 7th Ordinary Session Closed KPL - Lao News Agency 26th Jun 2019
The 7th ordinary session of the National Assembly’s 8th legislature was closed on Tuesday’s afternoon. Several issues have been considered and approved at the three-week session along with recommended measures for the government to implement the socio-economic development plan and an adjusted state budget plan for the last six months of 2019.

Lao Government Reacts To UN expert’s Misleading Report KPL - Lao News Agency 26th Jun 2019
With the consent and at the invitation of the Government of Lao PDR (GoL), the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Mr. Philip Alston, visited Lao PDR on 18-28 March 2019. The objective of this visit was to assess and identify the poverty level that remains in the country, its causes and the way forward that can be recommended to the GoL, as well as the success and challenges of the promotion and protection of human rights of the people who still live in poverty.

Market Development

Commerce ministry addressing undocumented foreign businesses Vientiane Times 20th Jun 2019
The Ministry of Industry and Commerce is on a mission to address the number of foreign-owned businesses which have opened their doors without the proper operating permit. The commerce minister, Mrs Khemmani Pholsena signed a ministerial advice on June 12, ordering provincial and district industry and commerce departments to undertake the work this month.

Customs

Laos Swine Flu Outbreak Sees Thailand, China Ban Pig Imports Laotian Times 24th Jun 2019
China and Thailand have both ban pork and pig product imports from Laos following the country’s first outbreak of African swine fever. The first cases of African swine fever (ASF) have been reported in Laos, with seven outbreaks across villages in Salavanh Province, leading to the deaths of 973 animals according to the Lao Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

Laos Improves Trade Regulations for Foreign Companies The Laotian Times 19th Jun 2019
Foreign companies that export products to Laos will no longer require a domestic business license under new trade regulations issued by the Ministry of Commerce. Mrs Khemmani Pholsena, Lao Minister of Industry and Commerce, issued a ministerial decision on June 6 ending the requirement for a domestic business license by foreign firms exporting products to Laos.

Defense & Security

Russian, Laotian servicemen to hold joint tank drills in December TASS 11th Jun 2019
The first Russian-Laotian military tank drills "Laros-2019" will be held in Laos in December, spokesman for the Russian Eastern Military District Alexander Gordeyev said on Tuesday. More than 2,000 Russian servicemen take part in joint drills in Abkhazia Gordeyev said that the militaries of the two countries held a conference on organizing and holding the military exercise.

Economics

Govt to focus on funding existing development projects Vientiane Times 26th Jun 2019
The government has announced that new State investment projects planned for this year will be postponed until 2020, a move aimed at maintaining the country’s financial liquidity. As a result of a revenue shortfall, the government has moved to concentrate on financing existing development projects and disaster recovery related projects that were approved by the National Assembly in the past six months of this year.

PM Highlights Economic Difficulties At NA’s 7th Ordinary Session KPL - Lao News Agency 20th Jun 2019
Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith has pointed out difficulties and shortcomings facing the economy in a report presented at the 7th Ordinary Session of the National Assembly’s 8th legislature in Vientiane on Jun 5, 2019. Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith said that although the national economy grew at a rapid rate of 6.5% in the past four months, it was slower than the rate recorded in recent years.

Energy

Solar power helps farmers in Attapeu save on electricity payments Vientiane Times 20th Jun 2019
Solar energy is one of the best alternatives for green power that is environmentully  friendly, and Phouvong district of Attapeu province is forging ahead in the race to use the sun’s rays to power an irrigation system. The owner of Internet Trade of Import-Export Company and the head of the solar project in Phouvong, Mr Sengsamoud Noraseng, said he began working on the project in Naxeuk area of Khamvongsa village in 2018 and plans to complete it in 2020.

Laos Builds On Green Growth Foundations With World Bank Support KPL - Lao News Agency 31st May 2019
The Lao PDR will benefit from reforms to strengthen fiscal sustainability and financial stability and incorporate green growth principles into development planning with support from the World Bank. The USD$40 million Second Programmatic Green Growth Development Policy Operation financed by the International Development Association (IDA) was signed by Deputy Minister of Finance Thipphakone Chanthavongsa and World Bank Country Manager for the Lao PDR, Nicola Pontara.

Lao PM pledges to focus on sustainable hydropower development Xinhua 25th Jun 2019
Laos will continue to promote environmentally friendly and sustainable hydropower projects with renewable wind and solar considered as additional alternatives for electricity production, Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith said.

Lao, South Korean business communities promote renewables investment Phnom Penh Post 25th Jun 2019
The business communities of Laos and the Republic of Korea (RoK) are keen to jointly promote the development of renewable energy in Laos. The first Lao-Korean event on “Business Promotion for Renewable Energy” was part of steps to strengthen cooperation between the Ministry of Energy and Mines of Laos and the RoK government, especially of North Chungcheong province.

Laos gov’t set to reduce economic overreliance on natural resources Phnom Penh Post 17th Jun 2019
The Lao government has announced it will reduce the nation’s overreliance on natural resources as it seeks to grow the economy despite the recent slowdown. Speaking at the National Assembly (NA) session recently, Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith said although the Lao economy is set to grow 6.5 per cent this year, it relies too much on the energy and mining sector. In addition, external loans for infrastructure projects that will likely result in low economic returns will be limited. The move should contribute to minimising the country’s debt distress. However, the government vowed to boost commercial productivity and promote processing industries.

Laos ups electricity trade Phnom Penh Post 6th Jun 2019
The LAO government has agreed to conduct a feasibility study on electricity trading and hydropower exchanges with neighbouring countries to boost cooperation in the energy sector. Laos has agreed to sell 5,000MW of electricity to Vietnam, and while it is currently exporting just over 300MW it is expected to supply 1,000MW by next year, Minister of Energy and Mines Khammany Inthirath reported at the opening of the energy and mining sector’s first quarter meeting on Monday. “Both countries are hoping to increase Lao electricity exports to Vietnam to 3,000MW by 2025 and to more than 5,000MW by 2030,” he said.

Energy, mining projects need careful study: Lao PM Xinhua 5th Jun 2019
Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith told the energy and mining sector at the first quarter meeting of 2019, which was held here on Tuesday, that every project needs to be considered carefully before approved, local daily Vientiane Times reported on Wednesday. Sisoutlith has called for the energy and mining sector to make greater use of natural resources to maximize sustainable incomes from various projects nationwide. The Lao premier also told officials in charge of the sector that three different measures need to be considered before any project is approved. "The three measures refer to thinking wider, thinking further, and going on the right track."

Lao gov't aims to lower electricity prices Xinhua 4th Jun 2019
The Lao Ministry of Energy and Mines is trying to cut electricity prices so that power is affordable for local residents and businesses. Many consumers in Laos have been complaining about their escalating electricity bills. The tariff is high when compared to neighboring countries, Lao Minister for Energy and Mines Khammany Inthirath, acknowledged at the first quarter meeting of the energy and mining sector held in Lao capital Vientiane on Monday, local daily Vientiane Times reported on Tuesday.

Financial Services

Thai and Lao central banks ink MoU on banking supervision The Nation 24th Jun 2019
The central banks of Thailand and Laos on Monday signed a memorandum of understanding on banking supervision.Veerathai Santiprabhob, governor of the Bank of Thailand, and Sonexay Sitphaxay, governor of the Bank of the Lao PDR, put their names to the document.The MoU serves as a solid foundation for effective cooperation in the supervision of banking organisations operating in both countries, in accordance with the principles set out in the Basel Core Principles for Effective Banking Supervision, they said.

Laos approves new law to safeguard local products Phnom Penh Post 18th Jun 2019
Laos’ National Assembly (NA) on Friday approved a new law relating to anti-dumping and countervailing duties in order to protect domestic products from unfair imports. Laos’ Minister of Industry and Commerce Khemmani Pholsena (pictured, Vientiane Times) told the assembly’s ongoing session on Friday that the enactment of the law was part of Laos’ efforts to fulfil its obligations as a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). She said if Laos does not have the law, it cannot apply anti-dumping and countervailing duty measures against the unfairly imported products.

Everex Announces Collaboration With Lao Development Bank Coinjournal 12th Jun 2019
Singapore-based blockchain services provider EVX Holdings, Pte. Ltd., operating as Everex, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Lao Development Bank (LDB) to develop and implement blockchain technology for cross-border payments and trade finance. According to Tim Scheffmann, regional managing director of Everex, adopting blockchain will not only benefit Laos and also its neighboring countries.

Food & Agriculture

Pig imports from Laos banned over swine fever fear Bangkok Post 22nd Jun 2019
Restrictions in place for 90 days as Thailand seeks to avoid becoming next Asian destination for disease. All pigs and carcasses from Laos are being banned from entering Thailand amid growing concern about African swine fever. The Livestock Development Department said the ban would be in effect for 90 days initially.

Vietnam’s Vinamilk builds organic milk farm in Laos Just Food 6th Jun 2019
Vietnamese dairy group Vinamilk is to build a US$500m organic dairy complex in neighbouring Laos. The first stage of building the complex in the province of Xiengkhouang has now started. Financed by the Lao-Jagro Development Xiengkhouang Co (Lao-Jagro), in which Vinamilk holds a 51% stake, the first phase will cost $120m. It will cover 5,000 ha and house 24,000 dairy cows.  The second stage will span between 15,000 ha and 20,000 ha and will be home to 100,000 cows. Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony, Vinamilk director-general Mai Kieu Lien said the complex - which is expected to be operational in 2020 - will open possibilities for the agriculture and dairy sectors and the economies of both Laos and Vietnam.

Health & Life Sciences

UK provides over 36 billion kip for UXO clearance Vientiane Times 25th Jun 2019
The United Kingdom government will provide grant aid worth 36 billion kip (US$4,274,709) for clearing Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) and developing capacity in the UXO sector of Laos. The funding will be provided to HALO Trust and Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) to support UXO clearance in Savannakhet, and a capacity development project under the National Regulatory Authority (NRA) for the UXO sector in Laos and the provincial NRA offices in Saravan, Champassak, Xekong and Attapeu.

Laos confirms first cases of African swine fever The Straits Times 20th Jun 2019
Laos has reported its first cases of African swine fever (ASF), confirming outbreaks in the southern province of Saravane, the Paris-based World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) said on Thursday (June 20). The South-east Asian country reported seven outbreaks of ASF in villages in Saravane, which led to the deaths of 973 animals, the OIE said on its website, citing information from Laos'agriculture ministry.

British expertise advances Lao research Vientiane Times 14th Jun 2019
Prof Paul Newton has spent the last 20 years carrying out ground-breaking tropical medicine research at the Lao Oxford Mahosot Hospital Wellcome Research Unit (LOMWRU) in Vientiane, which he founded. This week he returns to the UK, where he will continue his research work as a professor at the University of Oxford.

Dengue Claims 14 Lives Nationwide KPL - Lao News Agency 13th Jun 2019
The first six months have witnessed 14 people’s lives claimed by dengue fever with five casualties reported in Vientiane Capital, three each in Savannakhet and Champassak, two in Saravan and one in Bolikhamxay. The National Center for Laboratory and Epidemiology under the Ministry of Health has reported that the mosquito borne disease has also infected thousands of people across the country including over 1,500 people in Champassak, 719 in Savannakhet, 718 in Vientiane Capital...

Hundreds Of Monks Given Health Checkups KPL - Lao News Agency 10th Jun 2019
The Thai Embassy in Vientiane in cooperation with the SCG and Thai entrepreneurs in Laos organized a health and dental check up event for hundreds of monks and novices in celebrating the recent royal coronation of King Rama X of Thailand and Thai Queen's birthday. The event was held at Wat Ong Tu temple in Vientiane Capital on Jun 5-6. “SCG realizes that Healthy Living is a fundamental factor of living and important to improving the quality of life thus contributing to sustainable social and cultural development. This activity will help reduce health concerns for monks,” said the President of SCG Cement-Building Materials Business, Mr Nithi Pataarachoke.

Reproductive Health, Rights And Choices For All KPL - Lao News Agency 10th Jun 2019
Mobile outreach and activities promoting sexual reproductive health aim to reach more garment factories in Vientiane Capital. Vientiane Youth Clinic (VYC) working with Lao Women’s Union (LWU) organized a consultation meeting with factory owners and managers in Vientiane Capital on Jun 7 to discuss expansion of ongoing efforts and enhance engagement of the private sector to make available sexual reproductive health information and service to their workforce. The interactive meeting was led by LWU and UNFPA as the main supporters and attended by owners, managers and workers from 20 factories in Vientiane Capital , as well as representatives of other UN agencies and civil society organizations in Laos.

ICT

ICT Expo highlighting Laos’ digital expertise Vientiane Times 26th Jun 2019
The Ministry of Post and Telecommunications is currently hosting the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Expo in Vientiane from June 26-30 to showcase the latest in tech and digital innovation. Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith and Minister of Post and Telecommunications, Dr Thansamay Kommasith officially opened the event at Don Chan Palace Hotel on Tuesday.

Infrastructure

When climate action means better roads KPL - Lao News Agency 20th Jun 2019
The European Investment Bank is stepping up its climate adaption projects in developing countries, and that means building roads and infrastructure that can better cope with natural disasters, write Luca Lazzaroli and Léon Faber. Luca Lazzaroli is deputy head of operations at the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg. Léon Faber is EU ambassador to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in Vientiane.

Over 60 percent of Tanmixay-Sikeuth road upgrade completed Vientiane Times 20th Jun 2019
The contractor rebuilding the 9.4-km road running from Tanmixay crossroads in Xaythany district to Sikeuth junction in Naxaithong district of Vientiane has confirmed the work will be completed by the end of this year. However, many people living along this road have called on the contractor to speed up the work, saying they are facing difficulties due to its condition. They have also said it will be a problem using the road during the ongoing rainy season.

Can Laos manage its debt to China? ASEAN Today 20th Jun 2019
Laos’ economy is growing, but without outside assistance, the country cannot compete with its ASEAN neighbours. It turned to China for help. Its participation in the Belt & Road initiative (BRI) will bring a new railway connecting Yunnan province in China with the Laotian capital, Vientiane, as well as Malaysia and Singapore. The 250-mile railway is scheduled to open in 2021. China claims it will turn landlocked Laos into a “landlinked” country. The whole project will cost US$5.8 billion. Laos will only foot the bill for 30% of the project’s funding, with China covering the rest. However, Laos has to put up US$720 million immediately, US$250 million of which will come from the next five years’ budgets.

Too little, too late for the US around the Mekong? China’s already there South China Morning Post 16th Jun 2019
US officials say Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will “recommit” the United States to supporting the five countries along Southeast Asia’s longest river, the Mekong, when he makes his first duty visit to Bangkok in July. Pompeo has voiced concern that China has tried to “steadily salami-slice its way to control” in the region. Mark Clark, acting deputy assistant secretary for Southeast Asia at the state department, said his boss planned to highlight what had been achieved in the past decade by the US-backed Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI). Pompeo will attend a ministerial meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and lead talks on the LMI, which was launched 10 years ago by his predecessor Hillary Clinton to boost cooperation between Washington and Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. But experts warn the American pledge might be too little, too late given China’s entrenched interests in the area. Brian Eyler, director of the Washington-based Stimson Centre’s Southeast Asia programme, said the US had promoted its foreign policy goals in the region largely behind the scenes, despite a push by Mekong nations for “real and tangible” pacts with the US. Beijing has set aside more than US$22 billion under the initiative to support projects ranging from technological connectivity and industrial development to trade, agriculture and poverty alleviation. The Mekong is an essential venue for much of the grand infrastructure envisioned by President Xi Jinping under his ambitious strategy to boost global trade and connectivity with the Belt and Road Initiative. A five-year action plan issued last year said the LMC should work in synergy with the belt and road plan.

Thailand, Laos sign agreement on 5th friendship bridge across Mekong River Xinhua 14th Jun 2019
Thailand and Laos on Friday signed an agreement on building the fifth friendship bridge between Thailand's Bueng Kan province and Laos' Bolikhamsai province... Arkhom said Thailand's upper northeastern region, particularly Bueng Kan province, will be connected with Bolikhamsai and nearby provinces via the friendship bridge in the next three years.

China’s belt and road criticised for ‘wasteful’ spending South China Morning Post 12th Jun 2019
China’s massive infrastructure spending in Southeast Asian nations under the Belt and Road Initiative has run into a series of problems including substandard work and money wasted on unprofitable projects, a new report has warned... The report by the Asia Society, a non-profit educational organisation, suggested a series of measures to improve the initiative, including setting up a fund to enable less-developed countries to mitigate risks and launching proper environmental assessments.

Travel & Tourism

Laos To Launch Online eVisa Service in July Laotian Times 25th Jun 2019
Laos will begin offering electronic tourist visa (eVisa) applications in July this year, allowing visitors to apply for a visa online prior to arriving in the country. The official website for the e-visa application process is https://laoevisa.gov.la . The eVisa website will be jointly managed by the Lao Consular Affairs Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Public Security. Tourist visas valid for 30 days will be the first types of visas offered by the site, with other types of visas to be added at a later date.

Five Tourist Attractions To Be Upgraded, Developed In Each Province KPL - Lao News Agency 13th Jun 2019
The Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Bosengkham Vongdara told the ongoing 7th Ordinary Session of the National Assembly’s 8th legislature last Friday that his ministry has an ambitious plan to improve and develop five main tourist sites in each province nationwide. The efforts will include upgrading existing tourist sites and developing new ones.

Over 250,000 Chinese Nationals Visit Laos KPL - Lao News Agency 5th Jun 2019
The first three months of this year recorded over 259,000 Chinese visitor arrivals in Laos, according to the Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Bosengkham Vongdara. The number of Chinese visitors has increased by 16% if compared to the same period last year, Minister Bosengkham told the 7th Ordinary Session of the National Assembly’s 8th legislature this morning.

Region’s tourism ministers vow to boost cooperation Tourism of Cambodia 19th Jun 2019
The tourism ministers of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam last week agreed to boost cooperation, particularly in religious and food tourism. The officials met at the Fourth ACMECS Meeting of Tourism Ministers and the Fifth CLMV Meeting of Tourism Ministers, both held in Chiang Mai province, Thailand. Thong Khon, the Cambodian Tourism Minister, said cooperation must focus on religious and food tourism. At last week’s gatherings, the tourism ministers agreed to create action plans on tourism cooperation covering the years 2019-2023 which will focus on connections among routes and corridors, as well as marketing activities and sustainable tourism.

Laos to upgrade facilities to draw more overseas tourists Phnom Penh Post 18th Jun 2019
The Lao government is committed to developing and improving five tourism sites in each province along with road access and other facilities over the coming year, in a bid to attract more tourists. This was the message from the Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Bosengkham Vongdara when speaking at the opening of the National Assembly session on Wednesday.The minister said the government will encourage the private sector to help develop infrastructure, facilities and other services to accommodate the growth of tourism. Bosengkham highlighted the significance of the recent information campaign to promote Laos and its colourful attractions to the rest of the world.