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Laos Welcomed Into WTO

by Mary Swire,, Hong Kong

29 October 2012

Laos has received the approval of the General Council of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to become a member of the global trade body thirty days after the territory ratifies its Protocol of Accession.

Following the General Council's meeting on October 26, 2012, a document detailing the commitments the territory has made in return for WTO membership was signed by Laos's chief negotiator, Industry and Commerce Minister, Nam Viyaketh and the Director General of the (WTO), Pascal Lamy. Approval of the package is a momentous development for Laos which has been pursuing membership of the WTO for some fifteen years.

“Laos has come a long way since it embarked on the road to membership in 1997,” said WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy. “This is never easy for any least developed country, and Laos’s first steps were slow. But it is now seriously reforming its economy and its institutions, and has shown skill in its membership negotiations."

“Even at the end there were some tricky steps. The ability to strike the deal says much about Laos’s own ability, the flexibility of WTO members who are now implementing a series of decisions to speed up least developed countries’ accession to the WTO, the technical assistance several of them have provided, and the invaluable mediation of the chair of the Working Party, Ambassador YI Xiaozhun of China,” Lamy added.

General Council chairperson, Norwegian ambassador Elin Østebø Johansen, told the meeting that: “This year has been a particularly important one for the WTO community in the area of accessions: we welcomed four new members, Montenegro, Samoa, and more recently, Russia and Vanuatu."

She added: “In July, we also took a very important decision concerning the accession of least developed countries, in line with the mandate by ministers at MC8 [the eighth WTO Ministerial Conference]. I strongly believe that the forthcoming entry of Laos, a least developed country, into the WTO represents a fundamental step towards its integration into world trade and into the world economy.".

Laos’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Thongloun Sisoulith added: “In a country like Laos, the accession process is not limited to changing some laws and regulations. We had to change our way of doing business. Indeed, such a mind change is a difficult and time-consuming exercise. Given the progress we have made, both institutionally, legally and in our mindset, 15 years actually seems a very short time.”

In that period, over 90 laws and regulations were enacted, including on trading rights, import licensing, customs valuation, investment, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, technical barriers to trade, and intellectual property rights, Sisoulith noted.

Approval of the package by the General Council allows Laos to attain its objective of being welcomed into the WTO community ahead of hosting the 9th Asia-Europe Meeting Summit of Heads of State and Government in November 2012.

As part of its accession package, Laos has committed to “bound” tariffs (effectively maximum rates) that average 18.8% for all products - 19.3% on average for agricultural products, and 18.7% for the rest. In addition, Laos has made market access commitments in respect of 10 sectors and 79 sub-sectors.

TAGS: business | export duty | law | intellectual property | tariffs | World Trade Organisation (WTO) | Laos | licensing | legislation | import duty | regulation | trade

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