Laos ratifies WTO membership

Somsack Pongkhao in Vientiane/Vientiane Times
8 December 2012

Vientiane (Vientiane Times/ANN) - The Laotian National Assembly on Thursday ratified Laos' accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) after the WTO General Council accepted the country's application for membership in October.

This paves the way for the land-locked country to become the 158th member of the global trading group early next year.

The good news comes after 15 years of negotiations since Laos first applied to join the WTO.

Officials said joining the WTO would mean wider market access, enabling the least developed country to boost domestic production for commercial purposes and better integrate its economy with the rest of the world .

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Thongloun Sisoulith reported on the outcome of the country's preparations for membership before National Assembly members deba ted various aspects of Laos' accession to the WTO.

Thongloun said joining the WTO was in keeping with the Party's renovation policy, which seeks to attract foreign investment so that Laos has a greater capacity to produce high quality products for WTO markets.

He said membership would not affect the national budget because the tariff rates stipulated by WTO were higher than the existing rates in Laos.

For instance, the average WTO tariff rate is 19.3 per cent on agricultural products and 18.7 per cent on industrial goods. This compares to the current rates in Laos of 18.4 per cent on agricultural products and 10 per cent on industrial goods.

Thongloun admitted that WTO membership would create more business competition, which would put pressure on some enterprises and businesses, particularly those with a small turnover.

However, most National Assembly members supported the government's decision to join the WTO, saying it was a golden opportunity for Laos to benefit from market liberalisation.

National Assembly members said that while Laos may not be able to produce large quantities of goods for export, the focus should be on producing items of high quality.

Members were mostly concerned about how Laos could capitalise on the potential offered by the WTO and how to deal with the challenges that would arise, including stricter law enforcement.

Sinc e 1997, Laos has responded to more than 1,300 questions raised by WTO members, and has enacted and amended over 90 laws and regulations to meet the trading body's requirements.

This legislation will not only help Laos to integrate its economy with that of the international community but will also improve the domestic business climate.

A total of 10,694 items produced in Laos will be governed by WTO regulations. Laos is the last Asean member state to join the WTO. The government views membership as essential to further boost national development.

Over the past decade, Laos has enjoyed robust economic growth with an average annual growth rate of 7.8 per cent, increasing the country's capacity to compete in the marketplace.