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Lao People’s Democratic Republic
More on Accessions
Membership will “offer an opportunity to accelerate the economic
reform process undertaken by the Lao government,” Commerce Minister
Soulivong Daravong told the first meeting of Laos’ accession working party.
“It will have far-reaching implications for the Lao economy and its
integration into the world trading system.”
The working party’s approximately 20 members (about 45 if the EU and its
members are counted as 26) completed a first examination of Laos’ memorandum
describing its foreign trade regime, and other accompanying documents, with
further questions to be submitted in writing.
The Lao delegation also met some members bilaterally to discuss its
Before the next meeting, Laos is expected to submit an action plan for
enacting legislation with further information on agriculture, sanitary and
phytosanitary measures, technical barriers to trade, services and
intellectual property. Laos was also asked to prepare its first offers for
market access in goods and services.
Members — including co-ordinators and representatives of groups such as the
least-developed countries (LDCs), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN) — strongly supported Laos’ membership bid, and called for
flexibility and a speedy negotiation in line with the General Council’s
December 2002 guidelines for least-developed countries’ accession (document
So did the working party’s chairperson, Ambassador Tim Groser of New Zealand
who began the meeting by reminding delegations that Laos is not only a
least-developed country, but also lacks permanent representation in Geneva.
“The constraints faced by this delegation are therefore unique,” he said.
Laos has asked for technical assistance from members and from the
WTO Secretariat to help it with the process of becoming a member, including
Chairperson Groser cautioned: “It must also be recognised that there is
still considerable work to be done. As we all know, adherence to WTO rules
typically requires reform of both legislation and the complementary
enforcement infrastructure in the candidate Government. This is a process
which often takes time to achieve. This is the major factor in determining
how long any accession takes to reach completion. I am confident that
today’s meeting will prove a success in helping us all identify what further
needs to be done to move the accession process of Lao PDR forward rapidly
At the end of the meeting, Ambassador Groser “kept open the possibility”
that if enough input and new documents are received, the Secretariat might
compile a “factual summary of points raised” for the next meeting. He added
that the next meeting could be held in mid-2005. (These factual summaries
are early stages of the working party reports which are eventually the core
of the membership agreements.)
Laos introduces itself
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“Lao PDR is a land-locked, least developed country,” Lao Commerce Minister
Soulivong Daravong said in his opening statement.
“Around 80% of the population lives in rural areas and is engaged in
agricultural activities. Agricultural and forestry sector is the dominant
source of production in the Lao economy, accounting for 47% of GDP, while
industry accounts for 27% and services 26%.”
Industry’s share of GDP is rising slightly and agriculture’s is falling.
Merchandise exports are about 12% of GDP, with imports at about 21%. A “weak
and narrow export base” includes electricity, wood products, garments, and
mining, he said.
“Since the mid 1980s we have been implementing a comprehensive reform
program to transform the Lao economy from a centrally-planned towards a
market-oriented system, allowing the private sector takes an active role in
the socio-economic development process.”
Minister Soulivong described how Laos is already adapting to the types of
rules, commitments and procedures it will face in the WTO through membership
of ASEAN and its regional economic integration, the World Intellectual
Property Organization and some of its conventions, Codex Alimentarius (the
international organization on food safety standards), the International
Animal Health Organization (Office International des Epizooties) and the
International Plant Protection Commission.
He outlined moves his government has undertaken in making trade policies
more transparent, on the trade regime being regulated by legislation passed
by the national assembly rather than by decree, and on improving access to
the Lao market.
“Lao PDR has a relatively open services sector which accounts for a quarter
of the national economy,” he said. “The telecommunications sector has been
opened for competition between foreign suppliers. Currently, four mobile
phone operators are actively providing its best quality services. Other
services sectors are also relatively open; of these are private professional
and tertiary education and tourism services, among others.”
Liberalization and streamlining have also taken place in goods, particularly
under the ASEAN Free Trade Area. At the same time, Minister Soulivong urged
members not to press Laos to make commitments “beyond the levels applicable
to the current WTO members with similar economic backgrounds”.
And because the issues are complex and technical, Laos needs “comprehensive”
technical assistance in intellectual property, customs valuation, sanitary
and phytosanitary measures, and technical barriers to trade.
“In addition, Lao PDR as a [least-developed country] would require a
transitional period and flexibility to comply with these relevant WTO
agreements,” Minister Soulivong said. “For example, a lack of well-trained
and professionally-experienced specialists as well as laboratory facilities
creates problems in implementing effective SPS controls.”
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submitting more questions in writing and Laos is being asked to supply more
information on its trade regime together with its first market access offers
for goods and services. No date has been set for the next meeting although
the chairperson is keeping open the possibility of a meeting by mid-2005.
Background back to top
WORKING PARTY MEMBERS: To be announced
CHAIRPERSON: Ambassador Tim Groser (New Zealand)
Lao People’s Democratic Republic applied to join the WTO on 16 July 1997.
The General Council agreed to set up a working party on 19 February 1998.
The working party first met on 28 October 2004.