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2011 Investment Climate Statement - Laos


2011 Investment Climate Statement
Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs
March 2011
Report
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Openness To Foreign Investment

The Lao government is open to foreign investment as a matter of policy. It allows 100% foreign ownership of investments. The overall investment climate is poor but improving. Laos rates very low in international indices of transparency and ease of doing business. For the year 2010, Laos rated 154th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index and 171st out of 183 countries in the World Bank Group’s Ease of Doing Business Index.

The economic reforms adopted in 1988 and Decree No. 73/PO, dated October 22, 2004, purport to promote foreign direct investment as a means of boosting development and economic growth. In July 2009, the Law on the Promotion of Domestic Investment and the Law on the Promotion of Foreign Investment merged to become the Law on Investment Promotion (governing both domestic and foreign investment. Under this law, foreign investors may invest in all business sectors and zones of investment in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, except in business activities which are detrimental to national security, have a negative impact on the environment, or are regarded as detrimental to health or national traditions. In recent years Laos has seen a significant increase in FDI, especially in mining, hydropower, and plantation agriculture. According to Lao government figures, the five largest foreign investors are Vietnam, China, Thailand, France, and Japan.

The Law on Investment Promotion:

http://www.investlaos.gov.la/files/Promulgated%20Investment%20Promotion%20Law-English%20Edit%2007_07_2010.pdf

Large FDI projects, especially in mining and hydropower, often either find it advantageous or are required to give the government partial ownership, frequently with money borrowed from the investor or multilateral institutions. Perhaps the most well-known is the Nam Theun II dam, whose 25% government ownership stake was financed by a wide range of international financial institutions. The investment term of a foreign investment enterprise depends on the nature, size, and conditions of the business project but normally cannot exceed fifty years. Under special circumstances, foreign investment enterprises may be extended with the approval of the government. However, foreign enterprises that receive extension approval from the government may not exceed a total investment term of seventy-five years.

Foreign investors seeking to establish operations in Laos must submit project proposals to the Department for Promotion and Management of Domestic and Foreign Investment (DDFI), Ministry for Planning and Investment (MPI). The proposal first goes to the One Stop Shop Unit in the Department for Promotion and Management of Domestic and Foreign Investment (DDFI) and then undergoes further screening by the relevant line ministries and adjudication by the Prime Minister’s Office. Under Prime Minister Decree No 301, dated October 12, 2005, proposals for projects worth US$20 million or more require the approval of the Prime Minister. The Minister of MPI can approve investments below $20 million USD while the Vice Minister can approve investments of less than $10 million USD. FDI equal to or less than $3 million USD can be approved at the provincial level by all provinces; and in four of the larger provinces – Vientiane Capital, Savannakhet, Champasack, and Luang Prabang, the ceiling for provincial level approval is $5 million.

Foreign investors in a joint venture must contribute at least thirty percent (30%) of the venture’s registered capital. Capital contributed in foreign currency must be converted into kip based on the exchange rate of the Bank of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic on the day of the capital contribution. Wholly foreign-owned companies may either be a new company or a branch office of an existing foreign company. Throughout the period of operation of a foreign investment enterprise, the assets of the enterprise must not be less than its registered capital. The screening process at the Department for Promotion and Management of Domestic and Foreign Investment (DDFI) in the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) takes into account the financial and technical feasibility of the project, input from relevant line ministries, and whether the proposed project conflicts with government policy. Upon receipt of an application, the MPI must coordinate with relevant sectors and local authorities to consider and respond in writing to the foreign investor. Responses to projects, depending on project type, are supposed to be forthcoming within 15–45 working days.

Foreign investors are required to obtain a foreign investment license, an enterprise registration certificate, and a tax registration certificate from the MPI office nearest the place where the foreign investors are licensed. Thereafter they shall be considered as enterprises established in conformity with the laws of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Within 90 days from the date of receipt of an investment license the foreign investment enterprise must commence business activities. If the investors fail to do so, the foreign investment license is subject to termination.

In addition to the investment license, foreign investors are required to obtain other permits. These include a business registration which must be annually renewed from the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, a tax registration from the tax department in the Ministry of Finance, a business logo registration from the Ministry of Public Security, permits from each line ministry related to the investment (i.e., Ministry of Industry and Commerce for manufacturing; Ministry of Public Works and Transportation, etc.), appropriate permits from local authorities, and an import-export license, if needed. Obtaining the necessary permits can pose a challenge to foreign investors, especially in areas outside the capital. The recent creation of a “one-stop shop” for many permits within the Ministry of Planning and Investment should help ease permitting difficulties in the future.

Lao law provides for sanctity of contracts. The following links provide translations of the Lao Contract Law.

http://www.undplao.org/whatwedo/bgresource/demogov/Lao%20Translated%20Laws/First%20Volume/4.%20Contracts.pdf

http://www.na.gov.la/docs/eng/laws/econ/Contract%20%281990%29%20Eng.pdf

However, since Laos is a communist one-party state, the sanctity of contracts is subject both to political interference and to a number of socialist principles enshrined in the law. The Mekong Law Group, a well-known local law firm, has noted in its “Lao Legal & Investment Guide” that according to the contract law:

· A contract can be voided if it is disadvantageous to one party, and

· A contract is void if it conflicts with State or public interests.

Although a commercial court system exists, in practice most judges adjudicating commercial disputes have little training in commercial law. Those considering doing business in Laos are strongly urged to contact a reputable law firm for additional advice on contracts.

In 2006, the Lao government ceased imposing import restrictions on trading companies, whether foreign or domestic, in an effort to let the market respond to actual demand. The Lao government no longer requires companies to file an annual import plan for approval by the Ministry of Commerce. The main exception is the fuel industry, where individual companies are still required to file an annual import plan. The government controls the retail price and profit margins of gasoline and diesel. Government documents articulating the restrictions and explaining the policy are difficult to obtain. Goods that are always prohibited for import and export range from explosives and weapons, to literature that presents a negative view of the Lao government, to certain forestry products and wildlife. For a detailed list of import & export restrictions please visit: http://www.moc.gov.la/default.asp. Scroll down to the "Legislations" tab.

Agriculture production and most manufacturing production are private. State-owned enterprises (SOEs) currently account for only one percent of total employment. Approximately 97 percent of manufacturing units are small (fewer than 10 employees). Foreign companies interested in acquiring SOEs should apply through the Department for Promotion and Management of Domestic and Foreign Investment (DDFI) in the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI). Equity in medium and large-sized SOEs can be obtained through a joint venture with the Lao government.

Conversion And Transfer Policies

In order to facilitate business transactions, foreign investors generally open commercial bank accounts in both local and foreign convertible currency at domestic and foreign banks in Laos. Australian, Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian, French and Malaysian banks currently have a presence in Laos. Bank accounts must be maintained in accordance with the Enterprise Accounting Law. The law places no limitations on foreign investors transferring after-tax profits, income from technology transfer, initial capital, interest, wages and salaries, or other remittances to the company’s home country or third countries so long as they request approval from the Lao government. These transactions are conducted at the official exchange rate on the day of execution, upon presentation of appropriate documentation. Supply of foreign exchange has in the past been limited in Laos, which imposed a de facto limit on repatriation of capital. Foreign currency inflows in recent years, however, have reportedly solved this problem and large multinationals in Laos report no problems with access to foreign exchange. Foreign enterprises must report on their performance annually and submit annual financial statements to the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI).

Expropriation And Compensation

Foreign assets and investments in Laos are protected by laws and regulations against seizure, confiscation, or nationalization except when this is deemed necessary for a public purpose, in which case foreign investors are to be compensated. While there have been no expropriations, the Lao Government has revoked the foreign investment licenses of companies in a less than transparent process. Revocation of an investment license cannot be appealed to an independent body, and companies whose licenses are revoked must then liquidate their assets relatively rapidly. In addition, a company that fails to begin conducting business within ninety days of registering could be dissolved, if it does not have a reasonable explanation.

Dispute Settlement

According to the Law on Investment Promotion, investors must resolve disputes in the following manner: mediation; administrative dispute resolution; dispute resolution by the Committee for Economic Dispute Resolution; and finally, filing of litigation. However, due to the poor state of the Lao legal system and low capacity of most Lao legal administrators, foreign investors are generally advised to seek arbitration outside the country. Laos is not a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes. It became a party to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards on September 15, 1998, but Laos has never been asked to enforce a foreign arbitral award. Laos is a member of the United Nations Convention on International Trade Law.

In disputes involving the Ministry of Planning and Investment, decisions can only be appealed back to the Ministry itself. There is no separate independent body. Thus a company which feels it is receiving unfair treatment from the government has no independent recourse. In 2007, two U.S.-owned small companies were involved in disputes with the Lao government. One company had its investment license revoked and the U.S. owners were given no option other than to liquidate their assets. The second company was unable to renew its operating license in 2008 and is in the process of departing Laos. The Lao government has cooperated with the Embassy in addressing the disputes.

Laos’ legal system is evolving, but remains incomplete in many regards. Laws sometimes contradict each other and often lack implementing regulations. For example, tax exemptions and low import duties guaranteed to foreign investors under the Law on Investment Promotion are not reflected in customs or tax law. Supported by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Singapore, and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), some laws have been officially translated into English. These include the business, tax, bankruptcy, customs, and secured transaction laws. The reliability of unofficial translations varies considerably, which can create an environment of uncertainty and ambiguity among foreign investors. Application of Lao law remains inconsistent and knowledge of the laws themselves is often limited (especially outside the capital). The existence of a large number of government decrees, sometimes unpublished, further complicates the situation. While the trend under the current government is towards more openness and more accountability, investors are cautioned to recognize that economic and legal reform remain a work in progress.

Projects funded by the Australian government, the EU, the U.S., and the UN Development Program to assist Lao accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) include components aimed at bringing Lao commercial law into conformity with WTO standards. A commercial court was established during 2003, and began to hear cases in 2005. The Lao Bar Association was set up in 2007, though it has fewer than 100 members.

Laos has no anti-trust statutes. The bankruptcy law permits either the business or creditor the right to petition the court for a bankruptcy judgment, and allows businesses the right to request mediation. There is no record of foreign-owned enterprises, whether as debtors or as creditors, petitioning the courts for a bankruptcy judgment.

Performance Requirements And Incentives

Laos does not impose performance requirements per se. Foreign investors are encouraged to give priority to Lao citizens in recruiting and hiring. Foreign personnel can be hired, although they may not exceed ten percent (10%) of the enterprise’s total labor force. In the case of skilled labor, or politically important projects, the Ministry of Planning and Investment has confirmed that enterprises can hire over 10% foreign labor if necessary. Before bringing in foreign labor, the enterprise must apply for work permits from the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare. A foreign personnel list must also be submitted to the Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Division of the Department for Promotion and Management of Domestic and Foreign Investment (DDFI).

Incentives for Foreign Investment: Laos grants incentives for foreign investment depending on the sectors and zones of investment promotion. The government defines promoted activities under Article 49, 50 and 51 of the Law on Investment Promotion as follows:

Promoted sectors include agriculture, industry, handicraft and services. Detailed lists of promoted activities will be determined by the Government in three different levels based on the prioritized activities of the Government, activities related to poverty reduction, improvement of living conditions of the people, construction of infrastructure, human resource development, employment, etc.

The promotion is divided into 3 levels as follows:

Level 1: Activities with top level of promotion;

Level 2: Activities with medium level of promotion

Level 3: Activities with low level of promotion

The establishments of the promoted zones are based on the socio-economic infrastructures and geographical conditions of the country which are divided in to three promoted zones as follows:

Zone1: Zones where there are insufficient socio-economic infrastructure favorable to facilitate investment. These zones are mainly mountainous remote areas.

Zone 2: Zones where there are socio-economic infrastructures that are partially able to facilitate investments to some extent. The geographic isolation of these zones is not as severe as zone 1. These zones will be classified as a medium level of investment promotion.

Zone 3: Zones where there is good infrastructure available to support investments. These zones will be classified as a low level of investment promotion.

The detailed list of the promoted zones will be determined in the specific regulation.

Incentives related to profit taxes

Zone 1: Activities with Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 of investment promotion shall receive profit tax exemption, varying for 10 years, for 6 years and for 4 years.

Zone 2: Activities with Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 of investment promotion shall receive profit tax exemption, varying for 6 years, for 4 years and for 2 years.

Zone 3: Activities with Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 of investment promotion shall receive profit tax exemption, varying for 4 years, for 2 years and for 1 year.

Profit tax exemption starts from the date the enterprise begins its business operations.

Incentives related to customs duty, other taxes, incentives related to access to finance, Implementation of incentives related to customs duty and tax and specific promotion incentives were described in Article 52, 53 and 54.

In addition, Article 58 details land use rights: foreigners with registered investment capital of USD 500,000 and above may buy land use rights in order to build housing or office buildings with the agreement of authorities and in accordance with rules and regulations. (See the "Law on Investment Promotion" linked above).

Related to the Law on Investment Promotion, the Enterprise Law and Tax Law are available on the followed website:

http://www.na.gov.la/docs/eng/laws/econ/Enterprises%20%282005%29%20Eng.pdf

http://www.na.gov.la/docs/eng/laws/econ/Tax%20&%20Decree%20%282005%29%20Eng.pdf

Foreigners employed in Laos, including foreign investors, must pay an income tax of 10 percent of their total income to the Lao Government, unless they are citizens of a country with which the Lao Government has signed a double taxation agreement. The United States has no such agreement with Laos. The government began replacing the turnover tax with a Value Added Tax (VAT) in 2010.

Foreign investors are not required to pay import duty on equipment, spare parts and other materials used in the operation of their enterprises. Raw materials and intermediate goods imported for the purpose of processing and re-export are exempt from import duties. Raw materials and intermediate goods imported for the purpose of import substitution are also eligible for import duty reductions on a case-by-case basis. On an individual basis, foreign investors are also eligible for profit tax and import duty reductions or exemptions, if the investment is significantly large or determined to have a significant benefit to Laos’ socio-economic development. To date the Lao Government appears to have honored its incentives. Annual business license renewal is contingent upon certification that corporate income taxes have been paid. The tax code was streamlined and simplified in April 2005, but some investors still report significant difficulties in obtaining tax certifications in a timely manner.

Article 67 of the Law on Investment Promotion stipulates that foreign investors and their families, including foreign professionals and foreign employees of an enterprise, may obtain multiple entry visas with a maximum term of five years each time and, if approved by the government, may enjoy long-term residence in the Lao PDR.

Right To Private Ownership And Establishment

The government recognizes the right of private enterprise ownership, and foreigners may transfer shares of a foreign-invested company without prior government approval. However, the business law requires that all shareholders be listed in the articles of association, and changes in the articles of association of a foreign-invested company must be approved by DDFI-Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI), per the Enterprise Law (linked above). Thus, transferring shares in a foreign-invested company registered in Laos does require the indirect approval of the government (DDFI-MPI).

Protection Of Property Rights

Foreign investors are not permitted to own land in fee-simple. However, the government grants long-term leases, and allows the ownership of leases and the right to transfer and improve leasehold interests. Government approval is not required to transfer property interests, but the transfer must be registered and a registration fee paid. Foreign investors with registered capital of USD 500,000 and above are entitled to buy land use rights from the Government in order to build housing or office buildings, according to Article 58 of the Law on Investment Promotion.

The 2005 amended Law on Secure Transactions stipulates how a creditor may enforce security rights against the debtor, and represents a significant improvement over the previous 1994 version of this law:

http://www.la.emb-japan.go.jp/jp/laos/Law_on_Secured_Transaction_&_Decree.pdf

However, since the Ministry of Finance’s registry system is not computerized, and cannot cross-reference records, it is difficult to determine if a piece of property is encumbered. Enforcement of a mortgage is further complicated by the legal protection given mortgagees against forfeiture of their sole place of residence.

Laos issued a trademark decree in January 1995. The National Science and Technology Organization (NSTO), part of the Prime Minister’s Office, controls the issuance of trademarks on a first-come, first-register basis. Applicants do not have to demonstrate prior use. There are currently over 22,100 trademarks registered in Laos.

http://www.ecap-project.org/fileadmin/ecapII/pdf/en/information/laos/Lao_Trademark_Decree.pdf

Laos became a member of the ASEAN Common Filing System on patents in 2000 but lacks adequate personnel qualified to serve as patent examiners. A draft decree on patents was sent to the Prime Minister in February 2000 for approval and in 2002 the Prime Minister’s Office issued patent regulations. Since Thailand and Laos have a bilateral Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) agreement, in principle a patent issued in Thailand would also be recognized in Laos.

Copyright protection in Laos is weak. There is no system to issue copyrights in Laos, only a certification of copyright information. Laos became a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Convention in January 1995 and the Paris Convention on the Protection of Industrial Property in October 1998; it has not yet joined the Bern Convention on Copyrights, however. Laos promulgated an Intellectual Property Law in January 2008, and the Prime Minister issued an implementation decree in April of that year. An English translation sponsored by the U.S. government is still awaiting final approval by the National Assembly. Enforcement of this law remains problematic and there is currently little protection for intellectual property rights in Laos, although the authorities have taken steps to crack down on some pirated goods.

Transparency Of The Regulatory System

The principal laws, regulations, decrees and guidelines governing international trade and investment, as well as the current protection of intellectual property, are available to the public, although not all have been officially translated into English. Laws and their schedules for implementation are customarily published in Lao daily newspapers, and relevant line ministries are beginning to put laws and regulations on websites. The website for UNDP Laos maintains a partial list of translated Lao laws:

http://www.undplao.org/whatwedo/bgresource/gov_laolaws.php

Laws can also be found via the following websites. Laws on the National Assembly website represent the officially approved English translations:

http://www.na.gov.la/index.php (look under legislation on the left side);

http://www.poweringprogress.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=242&Itemid=109

http://www.moc.gov.la/gioithieuAP.asp

In addition, implementation of the budget law commenced with the restructuring of the Ministry of Finance (MoF) via Prime Ministerial Decree Number 80 of February 28, 2007. In September 2007, the Prime Minister issued Order No 35 instructing the MoF to move ahead with centralization of customs, tax and treasury departments. In January 2010 the Government introduced a Value-Added Tax (VAT). Full implementation of the tax is likely to take a number of years.

A lack of transparency in a centralized decision-making process, as well as the difficulty encountered in obtaining information, augment the perception of the regulatory framework as arbitrary and inscrutable. There have been reports that the government has recently begun discussing some proposed laws and regulations with the business community, and acted upon the advice given, before making final decisions. The Lao Tourist Association has repeatedly urged the Lao government at the “Lao Business Forum,” a business-government meeting sponsored by the Lao government and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), to discuss proposed laws with industry prior to implementation.

Efficient Capital Markets And Portfolio Investment

Laos does not have a developed capital market. Three-month treasury bills are occasionally offered for sale when there is a need to absorb excess liquidity in the economy. The largest denomination of currency is 100,000 kip (about US$12.5). Credit is not available on the local market for large capital investments, although letters of credit for export can sometimes be obtained locally. International reserves fluctuate, with the latest available 2010 data showing reserves of $724 million, sufficient coverage for 3.6 months of imports.

The banking system is under the supervision of the Bank of Lao PDR, and includes:

· three state-owned commercial banks: Banque pour Le Commerce Exterior Lao (BCEL), Lao Development Bank and Agriculture Promotion Bank;

· three joint-venture banks: Joint Development Bank, the Lao-Viet Bank, and a joint venture between BRED Bank of France and BCEL, has already operated but expected opening officially in November 24 2010;

· five Thai banks: Bangkok, Siam Commercial, Krungthai, Thai Military and Ayoudhiya Banks whose activities are mainly limited to providing services to local Thai businesses;

· Two Vietnamese bank: Sacombank and Vietnamese Military, expected to open in April, 2011.

· six private banks (5 foreign and one domestic): Malaysia - Public Bank (Berhad); ANZ Vientiane Commercial Bank Limited, the Association of Cambodia Local Economic Development Agencies (ACLEDA) Bank Lao Ltd, CIB International Commercial Bank Malaysia, Booyong Lao Bank, and the Indochina Bank. Phongsavanh Bank and ST bank are domestic banks.

· one representative office: Standard Chartered Bank.

A new banking law passed in 2006 allows private foreign banks to establish branches in all provinces of Laos. (Previously, foreign banks could only establish branches in Vientiane.) The Law on Commercial Banks is available at the following link:

http://www.la.emb-japan.go.jp/jp/laos/Law_on_Commercial_Banks.pdf

BCEL has correspondence arrangements with the following banks (US dollars):

· JP Morgan Chase Bank, New York

· Citibank, New York

· Wells Satgo, NA

· HSBC Bank, New York

· Standard Chartered Bank, New York

· Barclays Bank Plc., London

· Credit Suisse Bank, Zurich

· Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UHJ Ltd, Tokyo

· Natixis Banque Populaires, Singapore

· Standard Chartered Bank, Singapore

· Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Foreign Trade of Vietnam, Hanoi

· TMB, Bank Public Co, Ltd, Bangkok

· CIMBThai Public Co. Ltd. Bangkok

· Calyon, Bangkok

· Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, Tokyo

The Lao banking sector is in flux, with new private and foreign banks opening to provide modern banking options to Lao and foreign businesses. While continuing to receive outside assistance, central bank supervision of the sector remains somewhat weak. Although non-performing loans have decreased significantly since 2003, through work-outs, write-offs, and transfers off balance sheets, the three state-owned commercial banks (SCBs) remain, according to IMF estimates, insolvent. For detailed information see the IMF Article IV report:

http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2008/cr08350.pdf

The Asian Development Bank has provided both program loans and technical assistance to Laos’ financial sector, as have the World Bank and the IMF. These programs have led to some reforms but overall capacity within the governance structure remains weak and the banks face many challenges.

The Government of Laos opened a stock exchange in October 2010, and trading began in January 2011 with technical assistance provided by the South Korean Korea Exchange.

Political Violence

Laos is generally a peaceful and politically stable country. Visitors are advised to use caution when traveling in remote districts. For current State Department information please see:

http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_946.html

Corruption

The Prime Minister’s Office has made combating corruption a priority, including issuance of an anticorruption decree in November 1999, but corruption remains a problem. Although the 1999 decree specifically notes the responsibility of the state-owned mass media in publicizing corruption cases, there has been no reporting on this issue. In 2005, an anti-corruption law was passed by the National Assembly, and in September 2009, Laos ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. According to the State Inspection Authority, the Lao Government has prosecuted some individuals for corruption but it cannot publicize the information. The State Inspection Authority, located in the Prime Minister’s Office, is charged with analyzing corruption at the national level and serves as a central office for gathering details and evidence of suspected corruption. Additionally, the State Inspection Department in each Ministry is responsible for a ministry’s internal problems.

Laos is not a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery. Both giving and accepting bribes are criminal acts punishable by fine and/or imprisonment. Besides bribes to low-level officials for the purpose of expediting time-sensitive applications, such as business licenses, importation of perishable items, customs, etc., anecdotal evidence of more pervasive corruption is growing. Laos is rated 154 out of 178 countries on Transparency International’s corruption perception index. Generally, the government tends to deal with serious corruption problems by forcing corrupt officials to retire or move to a new position.

Bilateral Investment Agreements

Laos has bilateral investment agreements with the following countries:

Country

Date Signed

Date Entered Into force

Duration (in years)

Australia

4/6/94

4/8/95

10

Cambodia

China

11/24/08

1/31/93

9/1/09

6/01/93

10

10

Cuba

4/28/97

6/10/98

10

Denmark

9/28/98

5/9/99

10

DPRK

8/20/97

8/22/98

10

France

12/12/89

3/8/91

10

Germany

8/9/96

3/24/99

10

       

India

11/09/00

1/6/03

10

Indonesia

10/14/94

10/14/95

10

Japan

Kuwait

Malaysia

16/01/08

8/5/08

12/8/92

8/03/08

-

3/25/93

10

30

10

Mongolia

3/3/94

10/29/94

10

Myanmar

5/5/03

8/28/07

-

Netherlands

5/16/03

5/1/05

-

Pakistan

4/23/04

3/19/07

-

Philippines

6/8/07

-

10

Rep of Korea

5/15/96

6/14/96

15

Russia

12/6/96

22/03/06

15

Singapore

3/25/97

3/25/98

10

Sweden

8/29/96

1/1/97

20

Switzerland

12/4/96

12/4/96

10

Thailand

22/08/90

07/12/90

10

United Kingdom

6/1/95

6/1/95

10

USA

3/8/96

 

-

Vietnam

1/14/96

6/22/96

10

On February 1, 2005 a Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA) came into force between the U.S. and the Government of Laos. Laos and the United States do not have a bilateral taxation treaty.

OPIC And Other Investment Insurance Programs

The United States and Laos signed an Overseas Private Investment Cooperation (OPIC) agreement in March 1996. In 1998 Laos signed an agreement with the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). EXIMBANK does not currently operate in Laos.

The kip, while not an internationally traded currency, has been appreciating against the U.S. dollar over the past year, thanks in part to being pegged to the Thai baht. A significant economic downturn could lead to the kip depreciating against the dollar.

Labor

Over 75.7percent of Laos’ work force of 2.72 million is engaged in subsistence agriculture. The Lao government estimated the total non-agricultural work force in 2010 to number 922,825 people, roughly 26,500 of whom were employed in garment manufacturing. The total labor force is expected to increase by more than 30 percent over the next ten years.

The Labor Law passed in 1994 provides for the formation of trade unions; specifies working hours and compensation standards; allows for maternity leave and benefits; workers’ compensation and retirement benefits; and establishes procedures for labor dispute resolution. The Lao government raised the official minimum wage to 405,000 kip per month (about $50 5USD) in 2010. Wages for unskilled labor at garment factories, including bonuses and lunch, now run about 290,000 kip or about US $36 monthly. Labor unions can be formed in private enterprises, but they must operate within the framework of the Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU), which is controlled by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. In 2010, membership in the LFTU numbered 154,965. Strikes are not prohibited by law, but a government ban on subversive activities or destabilizing demonstrations makes them unlikely.

Laos has significant human resource deficiencies in virtually all sectors. English is not widely spoken. In 2010, about 18 percent of the population age 15 and above remained illiterate. The shortage of skilled labor is particularly acute in high-tech sectors. The country has a few technical colleges, one scientific research facility--the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology--and almost no effective post-graduate degree programs. The Lao Government has dedicated very few of its own resources to improve the country’s education system and tends to rely heavily on international donors for support; there are a few state training programs and some foreign-funded programs. Potential investors should note the need to dedicate substantial resources, both human and capital, to train employees. It is not unusual for foreign investors to bring in Thai managers due to a lack of skilled local personnel.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports

The Foreign Investment Law allows for the establishment of free trade zones including Special Economic Zone and Specific Economic Zone as an investment incentive. The Lao Government has currently ratified Decree on Special Economic Zone and Specific Economic Zone, No 443/PMO, Dated 26, October, 2010, Vientiane Capital. A zone in southern Savannakhet province, which borders both Vietnam and Thailand, is such a Special Economic Zone. Lao laws pertaining to trade are supposedly applied uniformly across the entire customs territory of Laos, including all sub-central authorities, special economic zones and border trade regions. In reality, however, customs practices vary widely at ports of entry in the provinces. The recent centralization of customs collection with the central government could lead to more uniform practices and increase the flow of customs revenue to the central government by an estimated fifty to seventy percent.

Foreign Direct Investment Statistics

GOL investment figures significantly overstate actual investment, as they include all approved projects regardless of whether the investment actually takes place. Both the World Bank and the IMF have lower estimates than Lao government figures. During 2010, the GOL approved $1.4 billion worth of foreign investment projects. Hydropower schemes account for about 31.6 percent of that amount. Foreign investment figures fluctuate widely from year to year due to the prevalence of large-scale investments in the hydropower and mining sectors. Foreign direct investment figures from the Bank of Lao PDR for recent years follows below:

Real FDI inflow through Bank of Lao PDR (in Millions of US$)

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

33.9

23.9

4.5

19.5

16.9

27.7

187.3

323.51

227.8

318.6


               
               

FDI approved (in Millions of US$)

     

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

20.4

51.4

133

466

533

1,245

2,699.7

1,137

1,215

4,313

1,402

In 2010, DDFI approved approximately $1.4 billion in investment projects. According to DDFI figures, 34 “U.S.” projects were approved between 2000 and 2010, including 4 projects worth a total of $2.15 million in 2010. Foreign investment now comes primarily from other Asian countries, particularly (traditionally Laos’ largest trade and investment partner), Vietnam, China, Thailand, Korea, France, Japan, India, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Foreign Investment Licensed in the Lao PDR by countries of origin, from 2000 through September 2010, in U.S. Dollars. (Source: Department for Promotion and Management of Domestic and Foreign Investment (DDFI), Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI).

Rank

Country

Number of Projects

Capital

1

Vietnam

252

2,771,657,642

2

China

397

2,715,574,318

3

Thailand

269

2,687,,064,987

4

Korea

154

512,442,015,

5

France

76

459,967,586

6

Japan

43

437,334,403

7

India

7

354,337,000

8

Australia

33

334,708,528

9

Norway

4

230,165,000

10

Malaysia

45

156,417,974

11

Singapore

35

118,166,650

12

Canada

15

61,227,050

13

Russia

15

56,088,310

14

Switzerland

9

45,952,452

15

USA

32

37,453,886

16

England

20

33,899,700

17

Sweden

6

19,180,273

18

Taiwan

13

18,870,000

19

Cambodia

9

10,109,500

20

Germany

18

7,244,836

21

Peru

2

6,000,000

22

Holland

3

5,870,000

23

Poland

1

5,000,000

24

Burkina Faso

2

4,780,000

25

Italy

3

3,600,000

26

Panama

1

1,750,000

27

Myanmar

5

1,346,650

28

Belgium

5

1,200,000

29

Iceland

2

1,100,000

30

Israel

1

1,020,000

31

Indonesia

1

1,000,000

32

Hungary

4

610,000

33

New Zealand

3

350,000

34

Sri Lanka

1

200,000

35

Cuba

1

185,000

36

Hong Kong

1

139,000

37

Portugal

1

125,000

38 Turkey 1 100,000

Foreign Investment Licensed in Lao PDR by Sector, from 2000 through September 2010, in US Dollars. (Source: Department for Promotion and Management of Domestic and Foreign Investment (DDFI, Ministry of Planning and Investment.)

Ranks

Sector

No. of Projects

Capital

1

Electricity

50

4,596,368,495

2

Mining

209

3,207,721,813

3

Service

207

1,570,026,006

4

Agriculture

238

1,314,320,311

5

Industry & Handicraft

303

1,084,596,438

6

Trading

148

336,668,360

7

Construction

48

328,480,951

8

Hotel & Restaurant

89

240,611,245

9

Banking

24

177,096,000

10

Telecom

5

156,165,978

11

Wood Industry

50

131,467,234

12

Garment

40

30,474,920

13

Consultancies

64

24,815,252

Total

 

1,555

13,196,135,003

In 2010, the effects of the global financial crisis led foreign investment in Lao PDR to decrease sharply. According to the Ministry of Finance, approved FDI decreased by about 67.5 percent, from roughly $4,314 million in 2009 to about $1,402 million in 2010. Past FDI growth has been driven by large investments in industry, especially hydropower, textiles, handicrafts, mining and services.



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