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Views from the Field: Aid-for-Trade in Lao PDR

Name: Richard Record

Position: Trade Specialist

Country Office: Lao PDR


 

Richard Record

 

 

World Bank: What is your background?

 

Richard: I work as a Trade Specialist in the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Sector Department for the East Asia and Pacific region, and am based in the Vientiane Office. Prior to joining the Bank I worked for four years on trade and private sector development issues in East Africa, including a spell as special economic advisor to the Malawi Minister for Industry and Trade. I also worked as an economist for two years in Vietnam.  

 

World Bank: What project(s) are you currently working on?

 

Richard: My primary responsibility is management of the Bank's country engagement on trade and competitiveness in Lao PDR. The program includes the Lao Trade Development Facility Multi Donor Trust Fund, an IDA Customs and Trade Facilitation Project, a National Single Window Program financed via the Trade Facilitation Facility, as well as grants from the JSDF and Gender Action Plan. I also lead a trade-related analytical program in support of Lao PDR's efforts to join the WTO and integrate more effectively into the regional economy, including work on export survival, trade facilitation and logistics, labour markets, gender and trade. The current phase of our program ends in 2013, so we are now starting preparation of a second phase based on priorities outlined in Lao PDR's 2012 update to the Diagnostic Trade Integration Study (DTIS).

 

World Bank: Tell us a little bit about the trade agenda in Laos.

 

Lao PDR is a least developed country, but one that is currently going through an exciting period of change including rapid integration into the global economy. It is one of the world's fastest growing economies and much of this growth is being driven by development of natural resources for export - principally hydropower and mining. This development of natural resources presents tremendous opportunities to transform the country and the lives of the Lao people. However, it also poses significant risks not least of which are those associated with export concentration and loss of competitiveness in sectors outside the natural resources, where the direct linkages between growth in trade and poverty reduction are stronger.  Lao PDR is also going through a similarly fast trade reform and integration process. After more than ten years of effort, the country is now entering the final stages of accession to the WTO and this has been a core driver of reform, including efforts to introduce rules based laws and regulations and make the process of importing and exporting more transparent and predictable.

 

World Bank: What are some of the major challenges you've had to overcome, particularly with the government?

 

Our greatest asset is that we have an ambitious and motivated client team to work with in the Lao Ministry of Industry and Commerce. Our counterparts are mostly young and represent the new generation of leaders in the Lao government, and our program has really grown with them over the last four years. However, like all relationships it has it ups and downs. A key challenge is that it is not always easy to show that the Bank can be a nimble and efficient partner to the government, able to respond quickly to urgent needs particularly when it comes to issues such as procurement and financial management. Accessing data has also been a constraint in an environment where there is a historical reluctance and enduring institutional constraints to sharing information. However, having a strong in-country presence and making it clear that we are committed to being a long term partner with the government on trade and competitiveness issues has made a real difference. 

 

World Bank: What have been some major trade-related achievements in Lao PDR? What are you most proud of?

 

The country is increasingly seen as a good practice model for developing an effective aid-for-trade framework with strong country ownership. Starting with a Diagnostic Trade Integration Study led by the Bank in 2006, the Lao Government has progressively built capacity in managing a coordinated trade program through the establishment of a multi donor trust fund and implementation of a country driven program of reform. Promising results are now beginning to be seen. The next generation of reforms are now being mapped out under a new Diagnostic Trade Integration Study, this time being led by the government itself - evidence of the increased in-country capacity and confidence.

 

After a major negotiating breakthrough in December, we now expect to see Lao PDR become a WTO member around the end of this year. This is an enormous achievement, represents the culmination of more than ten years of work and something that we are all very proud of. Last year saw the launch of a National Trade Facilitation Secretariat and the government is now just about to launch an electronic trade portal that puts information on every trade-related law, regulation, permit or license, fee schedule and business process into the public domain. It is a first, but important, step towards reducing the barriers to entry for traders. Similarly, this year is seeing the national roll out of a new customs system that dramatically reduces time and costs at the border and for the first time introduces modern border management principles including risk management.

 

World Bank: How do you collaborate with the World Bank's International Trade Department in your work?

 

Richard: We work in very close day-to-day cooperation with the Trade Department. Our team is small with just two of us in the country office, so we rely heavily on specialized support from the Trade Depatment to provide the depth in expertise that our clients need. Right now we are working with colleagues at the Trade Department on areas including customs and trade facilitation, transport and logistics, services trade and non tariff measures.

 

 

 




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