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Laos makes annual 7% economic growth, emergers as Korea’s attractive partnerInterview with Ambassador Khamsouay Keodalavong in Seoul

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is obviously in good hands—in Laos and Korea, and also in terms of relations and cooperation between Korea and Laos.
In Laos under the leadership of President Boungnang Vorachith, the country has been achieving an average 7% annual economic growth and the people are now working hard to join the group of the fast-growing economies of Asia.

President Boungnang Vorachith of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

The Lao PDR is known among many Koreans as a ‘Land of the Cleanest Environment’ and therefore an increasing number of Koreans visit every year. Many of them call Loas ‘A Paradise for Healing and Sightseeing.’
Laos also is a country of Buddhist culture (like in Korea) and many Korean visitors say that the people in Laos are kind, gentle and helpful to foreign visitors. They say that the Laotians make the visiting foreigners feel at home, comfortable and happy.
Belying such an external appearance, however, Laos is not so much a ‘sleeping country’ as she might outwardly appear. Laos is one of the most dynamic countries in Asia, perhaps comparing favorably with the Republic of Korea (south). Furthermore, Laos has rich natural resources, hydroelectric power generation resources and mineral resources in addition to the plentiful tourist assets.

Ambassador Khamsouay Keodalavong of the Socialist People’s Democratic Republic of Laos (right) with Publisher-Chairman Lee Kyung-sik of The Korea Post media.

At this juncture, The Korea Post media, operating 3 English and 2 Korean news media organizations, met with Ambassador Khamsouay Keodalavong of the country for a full-dress interview on the occasion of the National Day of the country. Excerpts from the interview follow:

Question: Congratulations on the National Day of your esteemed country. Please fully introduce the Foundation Day of the Lao People's Democratic Republic.
May I take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to The Korea Post media, especially to Mr. Lee Kyung-sik, the publisher-chairman of the media and his staff for giving me this opportunity to share my views on the occasion of the 42nd National Day of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and the 22nd anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Laos and the Republic of Korea.
December 2 marks the 42nd anniversary of the Proclamation of the Foundation of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Dec. 2, 1975), after a long endured period of war, in which we continued the revolution of National Democracy to liberate the country. Laos was a French protectorate since 1893 and gained independence in 1954 and continued fighting during the Vietnam War till the peaceful liberation of the whole country on December 2, 1975.

Now Laos is still suffering from several million tons of UXO (unexploded ordnance) which is scattered in the soil of most provinces of Laos. During the past four decades there were over 20,000 people injured or killed, mostly women and children. This is one of the most serious obstacles in Laos’ economic development.

Q: Please introduce the Head of Government of your esteemed country in detail, including his major achievements.
2016 was a very important year, in January there was the X. congress of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, in March there was a general election to select 149 member of the 8th Legislature of the Lao National Assembly. The current government has been elected in April 2016 by the first session of the 8th legislature of the Lao National Assembly as the new leadership team for the Lao government from 2016 to 2020.
The Secretary General of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party Bounnhang Vorachith was elected and appointed as the country’s President Boungnang Vorachith, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs as Prime Minister and Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Saleumxay Kommasith as a new Foreign Affairs Minister together with 17 other ministers. Bounnhang Vorachith is the 6th President of Laos. He strives for peaceful international policies, unity, friendship and cooperation. President Vorachit has held several senior cabinet posts including Savannakhet Province Governor, Mayor of Vientiane Capital Municipality, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Prime minister, vice-president and now President. As a teenager he joined the Pathet Lao armed movement which fought for Laos' independence.

Ambassador Khamsouay Keodalavong (second from right) is interviewed by Publisher-Chairman Lee Kyung-sik of The Korea Post media.

Q: Nowadays, economic cooperation is very important between the countries. Who are the major Korean companies actively engaged in bilateral economic cooperation? Please introduce them in detail in the order of size and scale of business activities.
To answer to this question, firstly I would like to share some information regarding the Lao PDR’s economic development in the past four decades.
The achievements made throughout the past 42 years can be attributed to many factors, but the most crucial ones are political stability, economic and social order as well as solid unity and solidarity among our multi-ethnic people.
Furthermore, the Lao government has maintained its unwavering political will to fight against poverty by creating prerequisites for lifting the country from its least developed status and perusing the path of sustainable development to the introduction of the open-door policy of the New Economic Mechanism.
We have kept our market open since 1986, when we shifted from a natural economy to a market-oriented economy. As a result of the current policy of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) and the government, the national economy has grown rapidly, consecutively and stably over the past decade, a fundamental factor in our favorable social-economic development, particularly in business in cooperation, production, service and investment in the Lao PDR.
After the resolutions of the tenth LPRP Congress in 2016, the Lao government will also continue to pressure its Vision 2030 and Strategy 2025, as well as its current five-year social-economic development plan, in effect until 2020, aiming at advancing the country toward attaining a green economy and sustainable development goals. The 8th Five-Year National Economic Development Plan, which is in effect from 2016 to 2020, is meant to implement the resolutions of the tenth LPRP congress.
Regarding your question, among other companies which invest in Laos there are Booyoung Group of company, which started their business in Laos in 2006 by establishing Booyoung Lao Bank, Golf Club, Hotel and others. KoLao group company dealing with automobile, financial services, leisure and luxury, electronics, construction, furniture etc… Besides these companies, there are some more Korean investments, for instance, Korean Western Power, Water Asia Co., Ltd, KEPCO which build a hydropower Dams, Hanshin E&C and so on.
The Lao government and people are very pleased to welcome businessmen from around the world including Koreans to invest in the Lao PDR, according to the New Southern Policy of the President Moon Jae-in.

Ambassador Khamsouay Keodalavong of Laos in Seoul (fourth from left) is flanked on the left by from left, Report Sua Kim, Editor Kim Jung-mi, Punlisher-Chairman Lee Kyung-sik and on the right by Editor Kim Tae-moon of The Korea Post Korean-language editions and Deputy Editor Kim Cheol-hoon.

Q: What is the present volume of bilateral trade, its outlook in the next 12 months?
For the economic ties, the trade volume between the two countries in 2017 is only US$68 million, the main Korean exports include passenger vehicles, trucks, motors, automobile parts, and construction equipment. The main Lao exports to Korea are potassium fertilizers, coffee beans, lead bullion and scrap, fabric and vegetable ingredients for oriental medicines. We really hope that in the future the economic ties between our two countries will be better, but to achieve these goals we should work together hard to support and promote it.

Q: What are the areas in your country where you might want Korean companies to invest and what are the areas where you wish your businessmen to invest in Korea?
The Lao PDR has a lot of untapped potential in economic development, particularly hydro-electricity, mining, agriculture production, eco-tourism and others. Recently, Laos launched the construction of the 414 km rail link from the Chinese border to Vientiane capital and would be completed by 2021. To date, there are 42 operational power plants with an installed capacity of 6,391MW and they are capable to generate about 33,822.4 GWh annually for local consumption and mainly for export. There are 53 hydropower plants under construction or in the planning stage. By 2020, there will be more than 90 hydropower plants in Laos with a combined installed capacity of almost 14,000MW. In order to maintain the level of economic development dramatically and sustainably, the Lao government needs to continue to improve the development factors by maintaining its political stability and social order, further implementing the 8th national social-economic development plan, Strategy 2025 and Vision 2030.

Q: What are your competitive products and/or services attractive to Korea and what are the Korean products and services that your country might wish to import?
As I have mentioned before, the Lao competitive products or services which are attractive to Korea should be coffee, brewery. Now some companies import Lao coffee and Lao beer to the Korean market. The Korean competitive products and services in Laos are so many such as Korean vehicle, Korean cosmetics and Korean ginseng and ginseng products, Korean restaurant and food, K-pop, Korean dramas etc.

Q: Please add whatever other details that Your Excellency might consider to be important.
If I may add one of the most important issues in the Laos people’s income is from tourism. In the recent past years the Lao government has been focusing on the tourism sector. Recognizing the potential and prospects to develop tourism in the years to come, the Lao government therefore has determined to organize the “Visit Laos Year 2018” for promoting various activities and events nationwide and overseas for the Visit Laos Year 2018. There will be 18 main activities in provinces across the country and other related activities. Furthermore, there are other scheduled activities in countries around the world in Thailand, Germany, Vietnam, Paris, London and Tokyo. During the Visit Laos Year 2018, the Lao Government expect to welcome more than 5.2 million foreigners visiting the country. In fact the statistic showed that total foreign visitors to Laos last year reached about 4.2 million and among them there were 173,000 Korean visitors. Next year, in the Visit Lao Year 2018, we expect to receive at least 200,000 Korean visitors to come to Laos.

Lee Kyung-sik  edt@koeapost.com

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