January 2, 2013
Hosting a series of major international and regional events, welcoming top-level leaders from the international community, entering the World Trade Organization (WTO) — All this took place in the year 2012 in Laos, one of Southeast Asia’s least developed nations with a population of only 6.5 million.
This manifested that the small landlocked country that shares borders with China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar was opening its doors wider to the outside world.
The Lao people are proud of the country’s remarkable progress in boosting diplomatic and trade ties with other countries in the past year, believing it will bring benefit to their daily life.
On July 11, 2012, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a brief stop on her Asia tour in Laos, the first visit by an American secretary of state since 1955 when the Lao civil war was in full swing and U.S.-backed royalist faction was in power. The current government came to power in 1975.
During her four-hour stay in Laos, Clinton met with Lao Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith and Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong. They agreed to further strengthen relations between the two countries.
The leaders pledged to continue the search for the remains of U. S. soldiers missing in action since the Vietnam War and to get rid of millions of unexploded ordinance (UXO) leftover from the war. Four decades later, millions of unexploded bombs still pockmark the impoverished country and still kill.
The talks also touched on Laos’ role in regional cooperation led by the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the country’s progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a series of development targets being pursued by the Lao government due by 2015 in efforts to remove the country from its least developed country (LDC) status by 2020.
The eight MDGs target a range of critical areas of development including maternal and infant health and mortality, malnutrition, universal primary education, gender equality, combating infectious diseases and environmental sustainability, while the ninth MDG focuses on reducing the impact of UXO, a problem which hinders the socio-economic development of Laos.
On Nov. 5-6, Vientiane hosted the Ninth Asia-Europe Meeting ( ASEM) Summit, bringing together heads of states and government from the 51 ASEM partners.
The summit, the largest international conference ever hosted by Laos, provided an important occasion for ASEM partners to share their thoughts and explore ways in enhancing better understanding between Asia and Europe and in addressing global challenges, especially economic woes.
To Laos, it is greatly conducive to raising its role and reputation in regional and international arenas.
The summit concluded with the signing of the Vientiane Declaration on Strengthening Partnership for Peace and Development and Chairman’s Statement of Ninth ASEM Summit.
On Oct. 26, 2012, the WTO finally confirmed Laos as its 158th member, the last of the 10 ASEAN countries to join the club after a 15-year quest for the membership.
The country has enjoyed robust economic growth of more than 7 percent a year over the last decade.
To meet the WTO requirements, Laos has enacted and amended over 90 laws and regulations and committed to reducing import tariffs to an average of below 18.8 percent, limiting agriculture subsidies and opening up 10 industries to foreign competition.
Laos has also undertaken additional commitments in bilateral negotiations with interested WTO members, including Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, Japan, South Korea, the United States and Ukraine.
Entry into the WTO club brings with it the promise of increased trade volume and new trade partners for Laos, as well as the prospect of fresh investment pouring into the country, analysts say.
It has also “provided us the necessary basis to achieve our goal of graduate from the LDC status by 2020,” Lao Industry and Commerce Minister Nam Viyaketh said last year.
It is hoped that the WTO membership will accelerate development, entice greater international investment and boost economic growth in Laos. The country’s bright economic future and continued opening to the outside world hold great promise for its people, the region and the world.
In sports, Laos successfully hosted the 16th ASEAN University Games on Dec.12-20, 2012 with the participation of teams from 10 ASEAN countries.
Ending years of isolation, Laos is embracing the outside world.