Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr12/04)
2 April 2012
Third World Network
Laos WTO accession talks in "end-game" stage
Published in SUNS #7333 dated 20 March 2012
Geneva, 19 Mar (Kanaga Raja) -- The Chair of the Working Party on the
accession of Laos to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has reported
that with only one bilateral negotiation remaining (with Ukraine) and
a number of new laws announced, Laos could join the WTO by the end of
According to trade officials, at the eighth meeting of the working party
on 16 March, delegates examined for the first time a draft working party
report outlining the legislative and institutional reforms that Laos,
officially known as Lao People's Democratic Republic or Lao PDR, has
undertaken, as well as the commitments that it will make.
Laos' Industry and Commerce Minister Dr Nam Viyaketh told the working
party meeting that the country "understands that there is still
hard work to be done, not only to have all adopted legislation promulgated
to share with Working Party Members, but even further, to implement
all commitments and make our legislation operational."
"Our goal is to substantially conclude our accession negotiations
by mid-2012 to have our last Working Party Meeting by the end of this
year when the Asia-Europe Summit will be held in Vientiane. This is
an ambitious goal, but the work done, the understanding of the Members
of the difficulties LDCs (Least Developed Countries) face in their transformation
process and the generous technical assistance we are receiving, make
this a realistic objective," he added. (See below.)
The Working Party Chair, Ambassador Yi Xiaozhun of China, said: "Provided
the authorities in Lao PDR work with purpose and speed on the submission
of required inputs, it would be my intention, as the Working Party chairperson,
in consultation with members and the Secretariat, to hold the next meeting
in July, before the summer break, to wrap up the remaining issues of
the working party report".
The entire draft accession package of documents could also be circulated
before the summer break, "with a view to hold a final Working Party
meeting in September or October," the Chair added.
According to trade officials, the Chair said that the talks are now
in their "end-game stage".
Trade officials noted that 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), as well as the eighth Ministerial
Conference decision of December 2011 (document WT/L/846).
According to trade officials, several developing and least developed
countries called for Laos' swift entry into the WTO, particularly under
the General Council guidelines, and for WTO members to be flexible in
the negotiations. These included Cambodia (for the Association of Southeast
Asian Nations), Haiti (for the LDCs), India, Saudi Arabia (for the Gulf
Cooperation Council), China, Vietnam, Pakistan, Qatar and fellow-applicant
According to trade officials, the US, the European Union, Canada, Chinese
Taipei, Ukraine, Australia, Japan, Korea and Switzerland said that they
support Laos' swift entry into the WTO. Some referred to the technical
assistance that they have offered Laos, and welcomed the progress made,
both bilaterally and multilaterally.
The working party heard that Laos has now concluded bilateral agreements
with Australia, Canada, China, the EU, Japan, Korea, Chinese Taipei,
and most recently with the US (on 14 March).
Trade officials said that Laos' only outstanding bilateral negotiation
is with Ukraine. Both Ukraine and Laos said that the latest talks that
took place two days previously had narrowed the gaps between them.
Several members urged Ukraine to be flexible and to follow various decisions
on making membership easier for least developed country applicants.
According to trade officials, Chairperson Ambassador Yi suggested that
they should try to conclude their talks by mid-April.
Ukraine replied that this might be difficult even though it is flexible
and pragmatic in striving for a quick agreement.
In his statement at the working party meeting, Laos' Industry and Commerce
Minister said that Lao PDR is ready to make a final and crucial effort
towards the goal of joining the WTO by the end of this year. "We
have made a substantial and concerted effort in our accession negotiations
both on the bilateral and multilateral front and we can show substantial
progress," he added.
On the bilateral front, Dr Nam said that the country has concluded all
bilateral negotiations except one. Lao PDR has signed agreements with
Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, Japan, Korea, Chinese
Taipei, and on 14 March with the United States. "We are actively
engaged with Ukraine with a narrow margin to reach final conclusion.
With its goodwill and understanding, Lao PDR is confident that we will
conclude this last bilateral negotiation very soon."
On the multilateral front, the Minister said that Lao PDR has passed
the necessary laws and regulations to ensure that they are now all in
line with WTO requirements. Notably, he said that Lao PDR's licensing
regime, CVA (customs valuation), SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary measures)
and TBT (technical barriers to trade) are well advanced in their full
adoption of WTO requirements.
At the request of Working Party members, Dr Nam said that Lao PDR has
been working hard to adopt all TRIPS dispositions in a revised law.
He noted that goods subject to import licenses have been drastically
reduced and Lao PDR's whole licensing system has been completely revised
and brought up to international standards. Only nine products now require
an automatic import license, while non-automatic licenses only apply
to the importation of guns and bullets, explosives and gold bars. The
Questionnaire on Import Licensing Procedures has been submitted and
this provides a clear picture of the import licensing system.
The Minister also said that Lao PDR has revised its Customs Law to be
in line with the CVA. "We plan to bring our legislation into full
compliance with WTO rules by 2012 and to ensure full implementation
by accession. Reference prices are now only applied to six products,
which will be eliminated upon accession. Thanks to technical assistance
received, the introduction of the ASYCUDA [Automated System for Customs
Data] system is progressing well, with the aim to streamline the customs
processes by harmonizing procedures within international norms."
Dr Nam underlined that Lao PDR's system for sanitary and phytosanitary
measures has undergone major reforms, and is still going through a major
overhaul in order to incorporate all of the principles and rules of
the SPS Agreement.
Lao PDR adopts the standards and recommendations of the IPPC (International
Plant Protection Convention), the OIE (World Organisation for Animal
Health) and the Codex Alimentarius. The updated Action Plan reflects
the work being done in this area, with a number of regulations and decrees
adopted in 2011 and 2012. Thanks to the generous support of WTO members,
Lao PDR is confident that it can fully implement the SPS agreement by
The Minister stressed that Lao PDR has embarked on a major reform effort
to bring its technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment
into conformity with the TBT Agreement, taking into account technical
He said that the updated Action Plan shows that Lao PDR completed its
re-assessment of the institutional, legal and regulatory framework,
identifying precise capacity constraints and the technical assistance
needed. The legal and organizational decisions concerning the establishment
of TBT and SPS Enquiry Points and Notification Units have been taken,
enabling Lao PDR to take the commitment to have them operational upon
accession. Lao PDR will fully implement the TBT agreement by January
On the issue of intellectual property rights, Minister Nam said that
Lao PDR is a member of the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization),
a signatory to the Paris Convention and the Patent Cooperation Treaty,
and as of this week, an official member of the Berne Convention and
the "Berne Union".
Lao PDR completely revised the 2007 Intellectual Property Law, taking
into account the TRIPS requirements and Members' comments. Its translation
would be available within the coming weeks, said the minister, adding
that work has accelerated in order to achieve the goal to have all legislation
in line with the TRIPS Agreement including its flexibilities for LDCs
by the end of this year, and have it fully implemented by January 2016.
The Minister also highlighted other reforms undertaken throughout Lao
PDR's accession process. According to Dr Nam, Lao PDR's major achievements
-- Trading rights: "Internal coordination and policy decisions
in the right direction allowed us to bring our trading rights regime
into compliance with the WTO through the adoption of the Decree on Import
and Export of Goods."
-- Import regulations including on agriculture: Lao PDR has abolished
all bans and import quotas for agricultural products and presently does
not apply any seasonal restrictions, prohibitions or other controls.
Lao PDR has only ad valorem duties, applies no quotas, no tariff quotas
and has no "other duties and charges".
-- Foreign exchange and payments: Lao PDR has undergone a major conversion,
by going from a managed system to an open system, complying with the
obligations of Article VIII of the IMF.
-- Pricing policy is now determined by the market mechanism thanks to
the revised Decree on Prices of Goods and Services.
-- Investment regime: The new Investment Promotion Law and its Implementing
Decree treat domestic and foreign investment on an equal footing and
are fully in compliance with WTO rules. Lao PDR's industrial policy
is in line with WTO requirements, with the newly adopted official repeal
to local content requirements.
-- Internal taxes are applied to local products and imports in an identical
way through the harmonization of previously different excise and turnover
tax rates thanks to the revised Tax Law adopted by the National Assembly
in December 2011. The Value Added Tax is being implemented.
-- Fees and charges: All fees and charges for services have been converted
to fixed amounts according to the costs of the services rendered.
-- Export duties: Lao PDR only applies a limited number of export duties
for development and revenue purposes. Export restrictions have been
brought in line with WTO requirements.
Minister Nam told the working party: "We hope this fully reflects
the progress made by Lao PDR to bring its trade and economic framework
fully in line with WTO requirements. We have streamlined procedures,
increased transparency, reduced restrictions and committed to opening
our markets to a level that has satisfied all our bilateral partners
but one we are actively negotiating with. Lao PDR wants to fully participate
and contribute to the multilateral trading system. Lao PDR is convinced
that this objective is within reach. Clearly this will require effort
and the goodwill of all parties concerned and full respect of the 2002
LDC Accession Guidelines."
According to trade officials, in their questions, working party members
asked about, commented on, or praised Laos for progress on these issues.
Questions and comments came from Australia, Canada, the EU, Japan and
According to trade officials, Minister Nam thanked members for their
technical assistance, and said that his country is on track to pass
all requirements by the end of the year, and that it has already demonstrated
its political and administrative will.
Laos applied to join the WTO on 16 July 1997, and the General Council
agreed to set up a working party on 19 February 1998, trade officials
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