Timeline: 2007 – 2013
Donor: Switzerland (SECO)
Beneficiary: Lao PDR
Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) is the last country from South East Asia that has acceded to the WTO (2 February 2013), although it has been seeking membership since 1997. The Working Party through which Lao PDR was negotiating the terms of its accession was established on 19 February 1998, and the first important step of the negotiations – the submission of the Memorandum outlining the Laotian trade regime – was made available to the Working Party in March 2001. From that time, the Laotian Government has prepared other documents relevant to the accession process, including questions and answers, implementation action plans and market access offers on goods and services.
Over the years, IDEAS Centre has become a close advisor for both bilateral and multilateral negotiations of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce (MoIC), which is responsible for Lao PDR’s WTO accession negotiations. In 2007, IDEAS Centre started to work with the Laotian Government on a project sponsored by SECO to assist them in their accession process. The first, second and third phase of this project intervened at a propitious moment in the accession negotiations. Indeed, its overall goal was to provide policy advice and assistance that would reinforce Lao PDR’s aspirations to the world trading system and further benefit from international trade through the accession to the WTO. The project has subsequently continued under phase IV which focused on the post-accession obligations and challenges that Lao PDR was facing as a recently-acceded Member of the WTO.
Overall Goal and Content
The overall objective of this multi-year project was to assist Lao PDR in integrating further into the multilateral trading system by assisting them in the WTO accession process. Furthermore, it aimed at providing support to Lao PDR’s Ministry of Industry and Commerce (MoIC) in preparing WTO negotiating documents (or reviewing them for overall coherence when these documents were prepared by multiple agencies) and negotiating strategies. From an operational standpoint, the project’s objective was to facilitate and advance Lao PDR’s accession to the WTO by supporting the MoIC in devising forceful and coherent arguments that permitted Lao PDR to reconcile the requirements of WTO membership with its national development programme and strategy.
The first phase of the project started in November 2007 and came to an end in January 2010. The project evaluation was highly favourable and confirmed that the project contributed to increase considerably the negotiating capacity of the MoIC. During the second phase of the project, IDEAS Centre continued its role as a trusted partner of MoIC in its bilateral and multilateral negotiations. The project’s main activities helped the MoIC to revise its good and services offers as well as its answers to Members’ questions. For both exercises, the project had a significant role in stimulating inter-ministerial consultations through providing support in the communication between MoIC and the various line ministries and agencies involved. In more sensitive areas, IDEAS Centre provided special advice and training. The focus of Phase III continued to be on providing international level trade policy and negotiating strategy to assist the Government of Lao PDR to engage meaningfully in WTO negotiations in order to successfully conclude a WTO accession package. Phase III specifically aimed at assisting Lao PDR during the final phase of the country’s WTO accession and beyond.
“In 2007, IDEAS Centre started to work with the Laotian Government on a project sponsored by SECO to assist them in their accession process.”
The project aimed at:
- Supporting Lao PDR in the policy and strategic aspects of its WTO negotiations;
- Providing the MoIC with requested analytical inputs relevant to the preparation of offers on goods and services;
- the MoIC on possible negotiating approaches related to market access negotiations on goods and services;
- Promoting coherence and coordination amongst line ministries to hasten WTO-required reforms, including through regional exchanges;
- Facilitating the timely accession of Lao PDR through strong and coherent arguments to promote its development agenda an take into account its (planned) preferential trade agreements in WTO negotiations;
- Ensuring timely and sequences internal policy reform coordination related to fulfilling WTO obligations in line with the country’s development policies and preferential trade agreements.
Phase I, II and III consisted of two main sets of components with related activities:
- A trade policy advice component for the preparation of WTO documentation. This information was gathered and considered in cooperation with partners in the MoIC and other line ministries. Capacity building was injected into the project design, as it foresaw that Laotian negotiators would progressively take on more responsibility for the substantive and analytical work required to prepare these documents.
- A coherence and coordination component which sought to use the catalyst of external expertise to assist line ministries in understanding the WTO perspective of the requested reforms and helping them to bring about these changes more quickly. Activities here included expert seminars and regional negotiator exchanges.