- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2006

Reforming Laos

The U.S. ambassador to Laos is urging the country’s communist government to adopt fundamental economic reforms if it wants to attract investment from the United States and other nations.

The United States has already granted normal trade preferences to the Southeast Asian nation, but the ruling People’s Revolutionary Party must overhaul its banking system and ensure intellectual property rights, such as patents, copyrights and trade secrets, Ambassador Patricia Haslach said in a recent speech at a regional forum.

“Laos is a least-developed country, with a burgeoning youthful population, underdeveloped health and education systems, little industry and a business environment widely acknowledged to be among the world’s most difficult and challenging,” she said.

“This is the first, crucial order of business for Laos to make the country attractive to investment and business.”

Mrs. Haslach acknowledged a fear of global competition among the small Laotian business class but insisted that competition is good for an economy.

“It need not be the case that domestic businesses are disadvantaged by competition, but they may be,” she said. “Inefficient commercial operations lose ground in an efficient market; but Laos also has many people with good business ideas, and they can be expected to thrive in an efficient market.

“Laos’ entrepreneurs deserve their chance.”

Mrs. Haslach called on the government to fulfill its obligations under the Bilateral Trade Agreement that governs the trade relations the United States approved last year. The agreement requires Laos to guarantee foreign investors “national treatment,” ensuring them fair access to the domestic market.

“Now we know that the Lao government has its work cut out,” she said. “It is not easy to reform a banking sector or jump-start an economy, particularly an economy accustomed to large infusions of donor support and lacking a well-functioning commercial court and mechanisms for arbitration.”

Condi says ‘thanks’

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed U.S. appreciation for Greece’s help in evacuating Americans from Lebanon in a personal message to Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis.

“Dear Dora,” she wrote in her Aug. 9 letter released this week by the Greek Embassy.

“Thank you for Greece’s assistance to American citizens departing from Lebanon. Please convey my appreciation to the Greek officials in Athens, Nicosia, Beirut and Washington, as well as the captain and crew of the Greek vessels, whose efforts culminated in the safe and swift transport of American citizens from Lebanon.

“I appreciate the ongoing solidarity that the Greek government has demonstrated to the American people through its decisive, timely actions. We will continue to work closely with you to bring a peaceful resolution to the situation in the Middle East.”

The Greek rescue efforts included the use of the cruise ship, Orient Queen, which accommodates 750 passengers.

Energy diplomacy

Equatorial Guinea may have a dismal human rights record, but it is also the third-largest producer of oil and gas in sub-Saharan Africa. The energy resources, alone, are reason enough to pay more diplomatic attention to the nation, according to the Foreign Service officer nominated to serve as U.S. ambassador to the West African nation.

In his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Donald C. Johnson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Bush administration is trying to demonstrate its desire for better relations with the country by sending a resident ambassador for the first time in 10 years. Previous ambassadors were based in Cameroon, serving as envoy to both countries.

“By assigning a resident ambassador, the United States is letting the government and people of Equatorial Guinea know that we are prepared for a more intensive dialogue with the country,” Mr. Johnson said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

washingtontimes.com.

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