What changes has WTO brought about? Chan Tha La is a butcher who sells meat at Thalat in Vientiane for several years. She said that pork sold at 68,000 Kip per kilo four months ago. Now, it sells at 75,000 Kip, up by 10%. Customers are fewer too. It is heard that even the civil servants are not regularly paid. What Chan Tha La said was true. But you can never tell whether it has something to do with the WTO. Compared to the gradually changing society and economy, the rise of prices is the most perceptible for the ordinary people.
Som Phone, a businessman in Pakse, complains most the traffic jam in Vientiane. This year, he got a new car finally. He thought prices of cars would drop sharply after Laos joined the WTO, but it turned out that the long wait ended in vain. “Anyhow, the design of cars has changed a lot this year. But the prices keep high.” The car Som Phone bought is a new Japanese car. And he is not the only one who made such a choice. In the streets of Vientiane, one may get an eyeful of Japanese cars.
What’s behind the traffic jam and high prices in the first year after Laos joined the WTO are the great efforts made by the Lao government in driving the country towards the world stage. In the past year, the Lao government reduced the tariffs of some commodities, opened the service fields, amended relevant laws and regulations and removed several administrative approval procedures. It has delivered on its WTO commitments and promoted the economy towards fast and steady development via active monetary policies.It is such efforts that have brought about tiny but meaningful changes to people’s ordinary life.
Phu Kau works at Boten, Laos. He has witnessed the rise and fall of casinos in the city as well as the rapid development of Mohan-Boten Cross-border Economic Cooperation Zone. As he said, Boten is like an empty city in 2012, where no one is in sight except for trucks passing by occasionally on the Kunming-Bangkok Highway. After Laos’ accession to the WTO, especially the opening of Houayxay Bridge, however, Boten comes back to life as people and vehicles going through the customs increase sharply.
Sou Lang Kong is an editor, who takes part in an English training center during his spare time. He spends his weekends on memorizing English words. Anyhow, he and his schoolmates believe that they are making a new life. He said, as more development zones and foreign enterprises spring up in Laos, there come more foreigners. So, talent competition has been shifted from “long-distance competition” to “zero-distance competition”, which could not be overlooked.
Unlike Phu Kau and Sou Lang Kong, Na Sin at Lao China Bank (LCNB) is too busy to remember the anniversary of Laos’ accession to the WTO.
LCNB is the first Laos-China joint venture bank invested by China’s Fudian Bank and Lao bank BCEL. In the past several months since its opening, it has provided convenient and efficient financial services for the economic and financial development as well as border trade of Laos and China via RMB cross-border settlement. At present, RMB can be directly converted to Kip in Vientiane and its surrounding areas. Foreign currency trading and other related services are available, and financial services directed at SMEs are also the focus. Due to its short presence in the market, the bank faces a multitude of things. So, Na Sin is quite pressed for time and busy with his work everyday.
“I can not feel any radical changes this year. It’s like driving a car on one’s journey. There is no accidents or bumps along the way. It’s a real good feeling”, said Na Sin.
Like Na Sin, the majority of Lao citizens could not remember the “exact date” when Laos joined the WTO, for they could not recall any breathtaking changes other than the daily trifles.
One year ago, the Lao people held a morning run to express their understanding on the significance of Laos’ accession to the WTO -- run to the future, with hope of the morning. Now as the first anniversary comes, there are no flowers, no fireworks, nor grand ceremonies. The even-tempered Lao people are just living an easy life in spite of the rising prices or traffic jams.
Laos’ accession to the WTO is just a start, no matter for the country or the people.