THIS NEWS STORY 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.
“We’ve had very constructive bilateral discussions in these last few days, in which we basically agreed on all outstanding commitment language,” Laos’ Industry and Commerce Minister Nam Viyaketh told the meeting. He was referring to talks during the week with some other members over commitments Laos will make in applying WTO rules.
“This has convinced us that we will be able to finalize all substantial issues within this meeting, in order to have our last Working Party Meeting right after the summer break to seek the approval and adoption of the accession package by members, before endorsing it to the General Council for adoption later this year,” he said.
Laos is officially the Lao People’s Democratic Republic or Lao PDR. The working party’s ninth meeting heard that Laos has struck a market access deal with Ukraine, the last of the bilateral negotiations to be completed.
Chairperson Yi Xiaozhun, China’s ambassador, said the completed bilateral market access talks mean that the WTO Secretariat can now also be asked to prepare Laos’ lists of commitments on tariffs and other aspects of market access for goods, on agricultural subsidies, and on market access for services. These “draft consolidated goods and services schedules” are developed from Laos’ offers and the bilateral agreements it has struck with nine members, “multilateralized” to apply to all WTO members.
The working party meeting also saw the second examination of a draft report, which will eventually be the core document in the membership agreement, describing the legislative and institutional reforms Laos has undertaken, and the commitments it will make on applying WTO rules.
Ambassador Yi set some tight deadlines to enable the working party to meet in September. “When we meet next, we will have Lao PDR’s draft accession package before us,” he concluded.
Some members, particularly the EU and US reported on latest agreements with Laos on a number of sections of the draft report, including on some of the commitments. They asked further questions and said they would work with Laos over the summer in order to meet the targets for completing the membership talks. The issues they raised, some now concluded, included trading rights, import licensing, intellectual property, and some aspects of services.
Delegates also referred to the existing and proposed new guidelines to speed up least developed countries’ membership talks — Laos is one. WTO members said they would also continue to provide technical assistance during the negotiations and after Laos has become a member.
All speakers supported Laos’ swift entry and praised its efforts to reform its laws and institutions and to open its markets. They included: the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN, Cambodia speaking); the EU, Australia, Ukraine, Viet Nam, Rep. Korea, India, China (which provided the venue in Beijing for Laos’ bilateral agreement with Ukraine), the US, Japan, Chinese Taipei, Nepal, Pakistan, Lesotho, Yemen and Haiti.
At the last meeting in March 2012, Mr Nam announced Laos’ aim of joining the WTO within the year, a target he described as “ambitious”. With a possible final working party meeting planned, perhaps in September, the talks have accelerated into a final sprint — before 2012 the working party had never met more than once a year.
Where is Laos now in its negotiation?
The talks could be within months of completion. Bilateral negotiations with the nine interested members are complete — Australia, Canada, China, the EU, Japan, Rep. Korea, Chinese Taipei, the US and Ukraine.
The bilateral market access deals in goods and services have to be built into a multilateral package, which will also include the new member’s wide-ranging commitments on laws and measures designed to ensure its trade regime conforms to WTO rules.
One more working party meeting is envisaged in mid-September for the working party to accept a final draft report. Laos would like the General Council to approve its membership before Vientiane hosts the Asia-Europe summit meeting (ASEM) in early November.
As a least-developed country (LDC), Laos’s application is covered by the 2002 General Council guidelines for accelerating membership negotiations (document WT/L/508) and more recently the 2011 Ministerial Conference decision (document WT/L/846). Laos is also land-locked. In order to support the negotiations, Laos is receiving technical assistance from other WTO members. Laos thanked them for this and called for more.
The working party was set up in 1998 and first met in 2004. Accessions working parties consist of those WTO members that want to negotiate with the government applying for membership. The final decision on membership is taken by the full membership in the General Council or a ministerial conference. The applicant country then has to ratify the deal, and it becomes a WTO member 30 days after it informs the WTO that it has ratified.
Tentatively, the working party may meet in mid-September.
Laos Accession Working Party members (according to the latest official list, but regularly updated):
Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Canada, China, Dominican Rep., EU, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Rep. Korea, Lesotho, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Qatar, Singapore, Switzerland, Chinese Taipei, Tanzania, Thailand, Ukraine, United States, Viet Nam, Zambia
Chairperson: Ambassador Yi Xiaozhun of China
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 met on 28 October 2004, 30 November 2006, 15 November 2007, 4 July 2008, 14 July 2009, 24 September 2010, 29 June 2011, 16 March 2012 and 12 July 2012.
Statement by H.E. Dr Nam Viyaketh
Minister of Industry and Commerce, Lao PDR
8th Session of the Working Party on WTO Accession of Lao PDR
12 July 2012
I wish to express our sincere gratitude to you personally for your strong commitment, guidance and support. Your chairmanship and your efforts have made a crucial contribution to reach the end game of the accession process. My thanks also extend to the WTO Secretariat, particularly the Accessions Division, to Members and development partners for their interest and keen participation in our accession process.
We’ve had very constructive bilateral discussions in these last few days, in which we basically agreed on all outstanding commitment language. This has convinced us that we will be able to finalize all substantial issues within this meeting, in order to have our last Working Party Meeting right after the summer break to seek the approval and adoption of the accession package by Members, before endorsing it to the General Council for adoption later this year.
Lao PDR has come a long way this last decade. WTO accession has been our guide and our incentive to undergo the reforms we needed to make to fully participate in the world economy. Let me enumerate some of the basic changes we have undertaken:
- Lao PDR has completely reformed its licensing system as well as its trading rights. We now have an open and law-based trading system;
- Lao PDR had no objective SPS [sanitary and phytosanitary] and TBT [technical barriers to trade] system. Today we have a clear and enforceable system in place;
- Intellectual Property Rights were basically not a well-understood concept in Lao PDR some 10 years ago. Today we have a modern and up-to-date system of protection of intellectual property rights in place.
- Our laws and regulations are today transparent and enforceable;
- Our only protection at the border is tariffs and our average tariffs are low and non-discriminatory. Our commitments in the WTO reassure our economic actors that our trade regime is predictable and enforceable;
- WTO accession negotiations have allowed us to discover the benefits of an open service sector and to understand what is required in terms of regulations to ensure that fair competition exists in our market;
- The WTO accession process has allowed us to review our investment incentives and to determine which instruments are in line with our objective to encourage private investments and which instruments did not actually contribute to this goal.
What is more important than all the new laws and policies adopted, is that there has been a change in the minds of our people: we now understand the requirements of market forces and the benefits of competition to ensure that we have a competitive economy ensuring our long-term economic growth and sustainable development.
Lao PDR would like to thank the Members of this Working Party Meeting for their support and cooperation during this whole process, and their understanding of the formidable challenges we had to face. Indeed, we have made a herculean effort these last few years, and especially the last few months, to complete all the requirements of WTO accession. In 2012 alone Lao PDR was able to issue more than ten regulations, five decrees and one edict in order to bring its trade regime in line with WTO rules, as outlined in the Legislative Action Plan.
The Legislative Action Plan shows the important effort made by Lao PDR to enact all legislations required for WTO compliance. What remains is well advanced and doable within the timeframe of the accession process. I would like to thank my staff for their unwavering effort and dedication in this long and difficult process. We sincerely hope that WTO Members will give Lao PDR their full support to its request to join the WTO by the end of this year.
Please allow me to highlight some of Lao PDR’s key achievements since the 8th Working Party Meeting:
On the bilateral front, I am proud to announce that Lao PDR has successfully completed all bilateral negotiations, including with Ukraine — although the signing of the Protocol is still outstanding, we have agreed on the content and on the signing procedure. I would like to present our appreciation to all WTO Members for their full support and understanding, not only of our status as an LDC [least developed country] but also of the special needs to develop the economy of Lao PDR.
On the multilateral front, Lao PDR has pushed to pass all additional necessary legislation to ensure compliance with WTO requirements. Notably, our Customs Valuation, SPS and TBT, Import and Export Licensing systems and Transparency of legislation are well advanced in their full adoption of WTO obligations, and we are working hard in preparing and adopting the relevant instructions on Intellectual Property Rights. Now, please allow me to provide you more concrete achievements as follows:
On Customs Valuation: The Ministry of Finance issued instruction No. 1537/MOF in June 2012 to address the Customs Valuation Agreement [CVA] and is in the final stage to issue another instruction to incorporate its Interpretative Notes. Lao PDR plans to bring its legal framework into full compliance with the provisions of the WTO CVA by December 2012, while full implementation is to be achieved upon accession.
Lao PDR significantly reduced the number of products under reference prices to six vehicles and two fuel products. The reference price for vehicles will be repealed by 31 December 2012 while for fuel it will be abolished upon WTO accession.
On Sanitary and Phytosanitary [SPS] measures: The Government has adopted three key decrees: the Decree on Animal Disease Control and Prevention; the Decree on Implementing Plant Protection Law and the Decree on Control of the Movement of Animal and Animal Product. Lao PDR has undergone a major reform in SPS to incorporate all of the principles and rules of the SPS Agreement. Therefore, I am confident to say that now Laos’ regulations are in full conformity with the SPS Agreement, six months ahead of schedule.
On Technical Barriers to Trade [TBT]: The Government adopted the Decree on the Implementation of the Law on Standardization in June 2012. This decree lays down the legal basis for Lao PDR to streamline its technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment procedures to be compliant with the TBT Agreement by 31 December 2012. Full implementation of the TBT Agreement is a clearly achievable target by 31 December 2014, as foreseen in our TBT Action Plan.
On Licensing Regime: The Ministry of Industry and Commerce has issued a great number of regulations detailing clear criteria and procedures for products subject to automatic import licenses (9 items) and non‑automatic import licenses (3 items).
Transparency: Lao PDR is upgrading the Edict on Making Legal Acts to a Law on Making Legal Acts, which is currently under consideration by the National Assembly, with its adoption expected this week. This law will address the broader transparency requirements in the legislative process. It will also mandate the publication of all Laws and regulations in an Official Gazette. Meanwhile, Lao PDR has just launched the Trade Portal website, an important instrument for Lao PDR to provide access to all trade related requirements, including SPS and TBT legislation.
TRIPS [Trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights]: The government adopted the revised IP [intellectual property] Law in December 2011 and promulgated it in January 2012. The Law was submitted to the Working Party for review. In addition, in March 2012, Lao PDR became a signatory to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.
The work accomplished and the reforms implemented reflect Lao PDR’s motivation and desire to streamline procedures, increase transparency and reduce trade restrictions, as well as our ability to open-up our markets to a level that satisfied all our bilateral negotiating partners. Our goal is to have our last Working Party Meeting right after the summer break, so that the final accession package is adopted by WTO members just before we host the Asia-Europe Summit in November in Vientiane. Together, we can achieve this goal, which will drive our development and lead to a more inclusive multilateral trading system.
Finally, on behalf of the government and the people of Lao PDR I would like to thank the generous support of WTO Members, bilateral and multilateral donors who helped Lao PDR in this long process of reforms and adjustment of Lao PDR’s economic system to WTO standards. Without your support and contribution we would not have been able to reach this critical and final stage of our accession. We hope this relationship and cooperation will continue even after the completion of this process, with your support to implement our commitments and effectively participate in the multilateral trading system.
With these words I thank you, Mr Chairman.
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