Laos a step closer to WTO

Laos has ratified its membership in the World Trade Organization, state media said on Friday, the latest step in the country'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 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 has enjoyed robust economic growth of more than 7% a year over the past decade but about 28% of the population still lives in poverty, according to a 2008 estimate from the World Bank.

Entry into the WTO is part of the country's stated ambition to graduate from least developed country status by 2020.

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 businesses, the Vientiane Times said.

Since negotiations got under way formally in 2004, the nominally Communist government 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.

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