Interview: Thongsing Thammavong
Where do you see the greatest potential for expanding Laos-Malaysia trade and investment?
THONGSING THAMMAVONG: Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Laos and Malaysia 49 years ago, cooperation between the countries has continuously developed, particularly in trade and investment. In 2014 Laos-Malaysia trade reached $26m, of which Laotian imports totalled $19m; exports totalled $6m, while trade volume for the first six months in 2015 was valued at $10m. There are currently 89 Malaysian investment projects in Laos totalling $995m. However, Laos still has high investment potential in areas such as forestry, agriculture, energy and mining, textiles, services, and technology, which provides opportunities for foreign investment. The government has implemented an open-door policy, improved its policies and regulations, created favourable conditions to attract investors, and established special economic zones. There is great potential for expansion and enhancement of bilateral cooperation between Laos and Malaysia, particularly in trade, investment and people-to-people linkages in regional integration.
To what extent will Laos work to develop and improve ASEAN-China relations as 2016 chair?
THAMMAVONG: China is an important partner of ASEAN. Since the establishment of dialogue relations in 1991 we have seen great achievements in political-security, economic, social-cultural and development cooperation, making China the first dialogue partner of ASEAN to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in South-east Asia in 2003 and the first strategic partner of ASEAN the same year. As 2016 is the 25th anniversary of ASEAN-China dialogue relations, Laos – as the chair of ASEAN – will work closely with ASEAN members and China to further enhance our strategic partnership based on the principle of win-win cooperation in this era of regional cooperation in connectivity, trade, investment, tourism and people-to-people contact, among others, thus contributing not only to elevating ASEAN-China dialogue relations to a higher plane, but also promoting peace and sustainable development in the region.
How important is the Monsoon Wind Farm project to the ASEAN Power Grid policy?
THAMMAVONG: Energy accession is vital to eradicating poverty and developing the economy, and wind and hydropower development are top priorities in the sustainable energy policy of Laos. This policy aims to develop the potential energy resources in Laos on the basis of competitiveness, sustainability and efficiency to raise the electrification ratio to at least 98% of households at reasonable cost, while promoting interconnection with the ASEAN Power Grid by harmonising and strengthening the national grid, and ensuring reliable supply to all sectors in line with the industrialisation and modernisation policy. Laos is studying the possibility of developing a 600-MW Monsoon Wind Farm with 240 turbines. This is related to the planned ASEAN Power Grid that includes Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore with the aim of generating 1540 GWh per year and reducing regional carbon emissions by up to 2m tonnes. Therefore, this project has to launch as early as possible in order to contribute to regional energy development, especially sustainable clean energy development.
How can ASEAN improve in the way it addresses development gaps across the region?
THAMMAVONG: The Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) has narrowed the gaps, helping Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam participate in the ASEAN community-building process. Given that the development gaps are still wide among ASEAN members, the IAI remains significant and is a top priority. ASEAN is developing IAI Work Plan III, which will be a guide for ASEAN members in narrowing the development gaps.
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