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(Oct 04, 2012) As of September 28, 2012, the terms for Laos to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) have been established by the group of countries working on the issue. The plan now goes to the WTO General Council for approval. The Council includes all 157 WTO members; it will review the Laos terms on October 26. (Laos' WTO Membership Terms Agreed – Next Stop: General Council, WTO website (Sept. 28, 2012).)

The chair of the Laos accession working group, Chinese Ambassador Yi Xiaozhun, highlighted the advantages to Laos and the WTO by the country's future accession, saying:

Lao PDR's [People's Democratic Republic] WTO accession is a strong, positive and clear signal for its commitment to engaging with the global economy in the framework of the rules-based trading system. … For the WTO, Lao PDR's accession means a warm welcome to another least-developed country into the multilateral trading system. This, in turn, has systemic benefits such as improved compliance with market access commitments in goods and services and with WTO rules. (Id.)

Working out the terms for Laos' accession has been a long process; the working group was first established February 19, 1998, although it did not meet until 2004. (Accessions: Lao People's Democratic Republic, WTO website (last visited Oct. 3, 2012); Laos' WTO Membership Terms Agreed – Next Stop: General Council, supra.) In the last stages, however, the talks benefited from the WTO commitment to accelerating the accession process for the least developed countries, under guidelines adopted on July 25, 2012. WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy stated that the speedier process "shows the commitment of the WTO to the least developed countries." (Laos' WTO Membership Terms Agreed – Next Stop: General Council, supra; Accession of Least Developed Countries, WT/L/508/Add.1, WTO website (July 30, 2012).)

Laos' Minister of Industry and Commerce, Nam Viyaketh, thanked the WTO and stated that once the final approval is given by the General Council, he is confident that the Laotian National Assembly will ratify the terms and deposit an Instrument of Acceptance in December of this year. (Laos' WTO Membership Terms Agreed – Next Stop: General Council, supra.) Nam added that the "Lao people place high hopes on today's event. We have gone – and we continue going – through a process of intensive reforms. During the accession process, Lao PDR has amended and enacted more than 90 pieces of laws and regulations, all in compliance with WTO Agreements." (Id.)

The membership package includes a number of commitments by Laos to open its market and participate fully in the international trading system, including:

· for trade in goods, "bound" tariffs (effectively maximum rates) that average 18.8% for all products and reach 19.3% on average for agricultural products;

· for trade in services, market access commitments in 10 sectors (79 sub-sectors);

· no additional duties or charges on top of tariffs;

· limited agriculture subsidies according to a set schedule and no such subsidies for export of agricultural goods;

· immediate compliance the WTO agreements on rules on origin; pre-shipment inspection; anti-dumping measures; countervailing duties; safeguards; customs valuation; export measures, including prohibitions; subsidies, trade-related investment measures; free zones; laws on transit operations; and preferential trade under bilateral, regional, and other agreements;

· full implementation by January 1, 2015, of agreements on technical barriers to trade (product standards and labeling) and sanitary and phytosanitary measures;

· full compliance by December 31, 2016, with theWTO Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement (Text of the Agreement, WTO website (last visited Oct. 3, 2012));

· with some exceptions, WTO rules on trading rights to apply as soon as Laos becomes a member;

· broad import and export by state enterprises under commercial terms, with notice of these transactions to the WTO;

· consistency of any price controls with WTO rules on trade in goods (including agricultural goods) and services;

· the right to appeal, for both individuals and companies, any government administrative actions covered by WTO rules;

· application of the commitments and the WTO rules throughout the country and enforced by the government, without the need to refer matters to the courts;

· government fees for services in accordance with WTO agreements;

· compliance of taxes and other charges on imports with WTO agreements, including national treatment (non-discrimination between imported and domestically produced products);

· no licensing, quotas, prohibitions, bans, and other restrictions on trade, except for balance of payment purposes; and

· transparency on relevant laws and regulations, with the contents of these measures to be made public and with an official gazette to be established within three years. (Laos' WTO Membership Terms Agreed – Next Stop: General Council, supra.)

Author: Constance Johnson More by this author
Topic: Foreign trade and international finance More on this topic
Jurisdiction: Laos More about this jurisdiction

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Last updated: 10/04/2012