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China's Belt Road Initiative poised to boost Lao economy



A part of the first rail line linking China to Laos, a key part of Beijing's 'Belt and Road' project across the Mekong, in Luang Prabang. - AFP

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN): The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is expected to be a key factor in converting Laos from a landlocked to a land-linked country and driving a skyrocketing economy.

The initiative is a trade route linking the country to Asean (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Africa, Europe and Latin America, the Acting President of the National Institute for Economic Research in Laos, Leeber Leebouapao said on Wednesday (March 25).

Lao economists believed that connecting the two plans of the BRI and the Lao government's vision to transform the country from being landlocked to a land-linked is a very positive move for Laos' economy and integration as well as for China, the daily said.

Two mega projects are currently under construction in Laos to help forge these links, namely the Laos-China railway and the Vientiane-Boten (bordering China) Expressway. These are part of the BRI and will pass through Laos to link with other countries in Asean as well as regions in the globe, the daily noticed.

Leeber Leebouapao strongly believed the BRI will create favorable conditions for the Lao government to succeed in transforming the country from being landlocked to a land-linked hub, which has the potential to boost economic growth through increased domestic production, services and foreign trade, as well as attract more foreign direct investment and enhance diplomatic relations.

The China-Laos railway runs from the Boten border crossing in northern Laos on the border of China's Yunnan province to Lao capital Vientiane and will link with railways of other Asean countries.

Trains will run at speeds of up to 160 kph. Construction of the railway began in December 2016 and is scheduled to be completed in December 2021.

The 460-km Vientiane-Boten Expressway is divided into four sections, while work on the first section from Vientiane to Vangvieng over a distance of 109.12km is currently underway, with a vehicle speed limit of 100 kph.

Leeber was confident that when these BRI projects are complete they will offer Laos great opportunities by acting as a springboard to stimulate tourism, production, investment, transit services, and access to a larger global market.

He projected that Laos will start to see a skyrocketing economy from 2026 onwards. The railway will be completed in 2021 and 2021-2025 will be a time of testing its utilization and building essential infrastructure.

The years 2026-2030 will be a time of peak growth, when the best use is made of the railway. In addition, the development of economic zones, cities and other infrastructure will have been completed.

It is the Lao government's wish for the country to be a middle-high income nation by 2030. Leeber said "it might seem like a dream but it can become a reality because Laos has the necessary supporting conditions.

The government fully supports the BRI because the Laos-China railway is a huge and historic project which is a turning point in our development. This has the potential to link Laos to other regions."

In the long term, Laos will have improved transportation and low-cost logistics and can expect a lot more foreign direct investment.

Associate Professor and Vice Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Business Management at the National University of Laos, Phouphet Kyophilavong, said "I think we need to provide a better environment for trade and investment.

"The government is doing its best such as by organizing business forums to find ways to remove obstacles to doing business. Forums are a way to encourage ministers to be more active."

Phouphet believed Laos can attract a lot of investment if the conditions are right but said "this depends on domestic reforms because we must understand that many other countries also want to attract foreign direct investment." - Vientiane Times/Asia News Network

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