THIS NEWS ITEM IS DESIGNED TO HELP THE PUBLIC UNDERSTAND DEVELOPMENTS IN THE WTO. WHILE EVERY EFFORT HAS BEEN MADE TO ENSURE THE CONTENTS ARE ACCURATE, IT DOES NOT PREJUDICE MEMBER GOVERNMENTS' POSITIONS.
Nevertheless, the talks are still in their early stages. This two-hour meeting was only the second of the 28-member working party (53 if the EU’s member states are also counted) and two years after the first meeting.
Ahead lie further negotiations on the goods offer, and from Laos, its first offer in services followed by more negotiations, a considerable amount of wide-ranging information on Laos’ trading regime, action plans to make its laws and regulations conform with WTO agreements, and bilateral agreements with key trading partners — Laos said it had met six of them during the week.
“There is considerable work to be done,” said working party chairperson Bruce Gosper, Australia’s ambassador. “I would encourage the negotiating team from Vientiane to use the feedback received in bilateral contacts with members in further work on the goods offer. In addition, … the market access negotiations would benefit by Laos tabling an initial offer on services soon and, in any case, well before the next meeting of the working party.”
Members said they will be flexible with Laos — officially the Lao People’s Democratic Republic — because it is a landlocked least-developed country (LDC) without a representative in Geneva. As an LDC, Laos is covered by the 2002 General Council guidelines for accelerating membership negotiations (document WT/L/508).
“Today’s session is a very important event in Lao PDR’s accession process, which the Lao government sees as critical to economic development and poverty alleviation in our country by further integrating out economy into the world trading system,” said Industry and Commerce Minister Nam Viyaketh, who led the 15-member Lao delegation.
Because of the amount of work needed, no date has been set for the next meeting. For that meeting, Laos has promised to provide more details on a range of subjects such as technical barriers to trade (essentially technical standards applied to traded goods), sanitary and phytosanitary measures (i.e. food safety and animal and plant health), intellectual property protection, customs valuation, further plans for legislation, as well as its first offer on services.
Based on these inputs, the Secretariat will prepare a “factual summary of points raised”, a first document that will eventually evolve into the working party’s report, which is one of the three key components of the final membership deal.
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GOODS OFFER. Laos submitted its first offer on goods in October 2006. Dr Nam said it took nine months to prepare.
The industry and commerce minister said the offer proposes that 100% of industrial and agricultural goods will have tariffs legally bound in the WTO as ad valorem duties (i.e. duties expressed as percentages of the price). There will be no tariff quotas (i.e. lower tariffs on imports within the quotas and higher tariffs on out-of-quota quantities), and when Laos joins the WTO there will be no additional duties and charges.
Members welcomed the offer. Some said that discussions with Laos on industrial goods are already well and advanced and almost “complete”, although they are seeking more on agricultural products. Others said they would like to the gap between the actual duties charged and the proposed legally bound ceilings (which can be considerably higher) to be narrowed.
LAWS AND REGULATIONS. In addition, Laos has submitted a preliminary legislative action plan, the texts of some of its relevant laws, a checklist of sanitary/phytosanitary and technical barriers to trade measures, information on implementing the intellectual property (TRIPS) agreement, information on its agricultural supports and subsidies, and answers to questions that members have asked.
Dr Nam outlined developments in Laos since the last meeting, focusing on improving transparency and the business climate. These include new or amended laws or regulations on investment promotion, enterprises, customs, tax, budget, banking, competition and trade facilitation at the border. Still coming are new laws on value-added tax, intellectual property rights, and standards and quarantine.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS. Most of time of any membership working party meeting is spent going through questions and answers under all the headings covered by the eventual agreement. These become an input into the final working party report.
Among the topics raised in follow-up questions in this meeting were: foreign exchange and payments systems; investment policies including incentives and local content requirements; pricing policies; legal and juridical procedures for disputes; trading rights; import prohibitions and licensing; internal taxes; export licensing; industrial policies; technical regulations and standards; sanitary/phytosanitary measures; free zones (duty-free zones usually for processing for export); agricultural subsidies; and intellectual property rights enforcement.
TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE. This is essential to help least-developed countries prepare for membership, both in the negotiations with other WTO members and for the reforms the applicant has to undertake. Laos thanked members for their assistance and called for more.
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No date set. Could be in 2007. Laos has promised to supply more information and a first market-opening offer in services. The Secretariat will compile a “factual summary of points raised”.
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WORKING PARTY MEMBERS: Australia, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, China, Dominican Rep, EU, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong China, India, Japan, Rep.Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Panama, Paraguay, Singapore, Switzerland, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, US, Zambia
CHAIRPERSON: Ambassador Bruce Gosper of Australia (replacing Amb. Tim Groser of 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.
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