, BANGKOK, Dec 7 – Laos has ratified its membership of the World Trade Organization, state media said on Friday, the latest step in the small Southeast Asian nation’s 15-year effort to join the global body.
The Laotian parliament on Thursday formally gave its approval, paving the way for the country’s entrance to the 157-member organisation in early 2013, according to a report in the government mouthpiece Vientiane Times.
It said most lawmakers “supported the government’s decision to join the WTO, saying it was a golden opportunity for Laos to benefit from market liberalisation”.
The WTO General Council gave its approval for Laotian membership in October, with the organisation’s chief Pascal Lamy saying the landlocked communist country had “come a long way since it embarked on the road to membership in 1997”.
Laos is one of Southeast Asia’s poorest nations and the only one in the region yet to join the WTO. About 28 percent of the population still lives in poverty, according to a 2008 estimate from the World Bank.
The country has enjoyed robust economic growth of more than seven percent a year over the past decade.
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.
The move is also part of the country’s stated ambition to graduate from least developed country status by 2020.
Laos Deputy Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith said the move was part of the country’s efforts to attract foreign investment, but conceded that membership would increase competition and put pressure on small local firms, the Vientiane Times said.
Since negotiations got under way properly in 2004, Laos has adopted dozens of laws to bring it in line with WTO requirements in areas such as investment, food safety, animal health, import and export procedures and intellectual property rights — a flurry of activity rarely seen in the state.