News / Asia

Laos Offered WTO Membership

Handicraft and souvenir vendors wait for customers and tourists at the night market of Luang Prabang, October 18, 2009.
Handicraft and souvenir vendors wait for customers and tourists at the night market of Luang Prabang, October 18, 2009.
Daniel Schearf
— The World Trade Organization has offered membership to Laos, an impoverished, one-party communist state. After years of slow negotiations the Southeast Asian Nation has moved its economy away from centralized control toward a market-oriented one. 

After 15 years of negotiations, the World Trade Organization on Friday officially invited Laos to become a member.   
 
The invitation is recognition of the country’s efforts to change laws and policies to comply with the trade club’s requirements and the market access demands of its more than 150 members.
 
It also comes after years of steady annual economic growth averaging more than six percent. This year it could top eight percent, the highest in Southeast Asia.
 
Michael Ewing-Chow, the WTO chair at the Center for International Law in Singapore, says membership for Laos gives it access to WTO benefits - but it signals a more fundamental change for the nation.
 
"The real value for Laos is really that they're moving their economy away from the more centralized, planned one of the past to one where they're really looking at how best to create entrepreneurship, free markets in their country," Ewing-Chow noted.
 
Small, poor, and land-locked, Laos is run by the same communist party that took power in 1975.  
 
Like most communist states, Laos' economy was centrally controlled and it aligned itself with the former Soviet block countries.
 
But from the mid 1980s Vientiane slowly moved toward a more market-oriented economy.
 
Now, a country that was once reliant on foreign assistance is becoming a major destination for foreign investment, which this year topped $2 billion.
 
It is the last of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to be welcomed into the global trade club.
 
WTO information officer Peter Ungphakorn says, once Laos ratifies the agreement, ASEAN will be able to speak as one voice at the WTO.  
 
He says membership could also give the Lao economy a boost as it did for other former centrally planned economies China and Vietnam.
 
"It can also make Laos more attractive for foreign investment because it will be showing that it can apply predictable, transparent, ruled-based principles to its economy," said Ungphakorn.

The biggest investors in Laos are also its major trade partners and neighbors - China, Thailand and Vietnam.
 
But most investment is in natural resources such as agriculture, hydropower and mining, much of which is sold to its neighbors. 

Analysts say membership in the WTO should help diversify foreign investment and trade into other sectors.
 
Nicolai Imboden is executive director of the Idea Center in Geneva, a group assisting developing countries like Laos to integrate into the world economy.  He says Laos is not yet able to compete as a production base, so European and American companies will be slower to invest.
 
"Thailand is very big in investments.  Vietnam starts now.  Singapore is doing a lot, you know.  I think Korea will come," he said. "There is clearly, as you know also, there is a moving out of low-cost manufacturing from China towards the south and I think Laos will profit from that," said Imboden.
 
ASEAN plans to form an economic community by the end of 2015 linking up the region.
 
Beijing plans to spend billions on train and road connections through Laos.
 
Ewing-Chow says that puts Laos in a prime position to become a hub for ASEAN-China trade.

"China is its big neighbor to the north and its major neighbor to the south is Thailand.  Both of these are increasingly players in the Laotian economy and will continue to be the case for many years to come," he said. "However, if Laos becomes a major hub for the region it then becomes able to tap into the network of the other economies which seek to move goods and services and people up and down that particular corridor connecting China with ASEAN."
 
Despite the development and rapid growth in Laos, more than a quarter of the country's six and a half million people are still living in poverty.
 
The United Nations ranks Laos at 138 of 187 countries in terms of development.
 
Laos hopes membership in the WTO will help it break free from its "least developed country" status.  
 
Its lawmakers are expected to officially accept the WTO membership offer in December.

You May Like

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid