Patusay, a popular attraction in Vientiane, Laos (Photo: VNA)
Vientiane (VNA) – As Chair of ASEAN in 2016, Laos is exerting every effort to turn challenges from the year-end establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) into opportunities.

According to experts, Laos will hoard a lot of experience when joining the AEC, especially in human resources training and management skills, which will be useful to the country’s socio-economic development, helping it catch up with other ASEAN members.

Additionally, the abundant natural resources are expected to be an advantage of the country, helping Laos boost the export of electricity, draw foreign investment capital, and attract international tourists.

Despite being a small-scale economy in Southeast Asia, Laos records one of the fastest growth rates in the region in recent year, with an average GDP growth of 8 percent.

Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong said there are enormous benefits from the AEC from the open and attractive markets in the region, adding that the elimination of tariff will enable Laos to export its products to the intra-bloc market and import goods from other ASEAN countries at lower cost.

However, a number of difficulties and challenges still lie ahead, expert said, noting that Lao economy is not strong enough to compete with other ASEAN members due to limitations in infrastructure, transportation, services and banking system. Lao products will also face fierce competition from regional counterparts.

To address the restrictions, Laos is making preparations to increase local understanding of regional and global connectivity; enhance cooperation between State-run and private businesses; study trade and production, including support for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); and improve regulations relevant to business activities.

Laos is also working hard to narrow the development gap with other ASEAN members and integrate more effectively into the association.

To remove trade barriers, the Lao Government will officially eliminate automobile tariff from January 1, 2016, while creating an information portal to enhance the transparency of trade related regulations.

Most recently, the Lao Government has decided to upgrade and expand the Wattay international airport in Vientiane on the outset of 2016 to increase the capacity of serving around 2-3 million passengers per year.

The Government also mapped out a plan to build a new international airport about 35 km south of Vientiane.-VNA