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The 8th European Union-Lao PDR Joint Committee was held in Vientiane on 17 February 2017. The Joint Committee was co-chaired by H.E. Mr Khouanta Phalivong, Director-General for Europe and America at the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs and by Ambassador David Daly, Head of Division for South and Southeast Asia at the European External Action Service.
On 16 February, the Joint Committee was preceded by the 7th Laos – EU Human Rights Dialogue, which ran back-to-back with the Working Group on Cooperation as well as the Working Group on Trade and Investment. All of the discussions held over two days provided for fruitful exchanges with important contributions coming from both sides.
The Lao PDR and the European Union held open and constructive discussions on a broad range of political, economic and social issues, including governance, human rights, development cooperation, environment and trade and investment policies. In the Human Rights Dialogue, discussions of Lao PDR's commitments under the UN Universal Periodic Review process took centre stage. The Working Group on Trade reviewed EU-Laos bilateral trade and the investment climate in Laos. The two parties discussed the state of play of Laos' WTO implementation and addressed a number of other bilateral issues in relation to Lao's uptake of the Everything But Arms initiative and investment climate for European companies in Laos. The Lao PDR and EU presented their respective trade strategies. Furthermore, the parties reviewed several regional and multilateral matters.
The Working Group on Development discussed current and future mechanisms to support Laos' private sector development, regional and international integration and trade related technical assistance. Useful exchanges were also held about Lao PDR's progress made on MDGs as well on the National Socio-Economic Development Plan (NSEDP) and its alignment to the SDGs. EU support to the education, health, nutrition and UXO sectors was also discussed. In addition, the importance of the contribution of the civil society was central to the discussions over the two days.
The Working Group was also an occasion to share views on the Joint Programming, a mechanism of cooperation the EU and its Member States, as well as Switzerland, have adopted in the Lao PDR. The European development partners have decided together with the Government of Laos on how to deliver aid more effectively by adopting a process of division of labour while ensuring close alignment with the NSEDP of Lao PDR. Within this programme the EU has decided to focus on three areas, namely Nutrition, Education and Governance for the period 2016-2020. In total the EU will allocate some 207 million Euros for the period of 2014-2020. At the margins of the Joint Committee a media event was held to mark the signature of an important support package (totalling €60.5 million) to assist Laos' effort in the nutrition, governance and UXO sectors.
Human rights and governance were discussed in a frank and open atmosphere, with an exchange of views over a wide variety of issues. These ranged from the ratification status of international conventions to the rights of vulnerable groups, including land and labour rights and respect for fundamental freedoms. Several individual cases of persons who have been detained or have disappeared have been discussed.
Regarding further potential areas for cooperation, regional matters were discussed with a focus on the successful Lao PDR 2016 ASEAN chairmanship. The EU stands ready to share its experience in regional integration, in areas such as sound water diplomacy in the Mekong River Basin, or in security matters.
Environmental concerns were also high on the agenda since the Lao Government recently ratified the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and made strong commitments to counter illegal wildlife and timber trading. Both sides were particularly pleased to acknowledge that a first round of FLEGT/VPA negotiations will take place in the first half of 2017.
The parties exchanged views on Laos’ efforts in the context of anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing in preparation for an upcoming in-country visit in 2017 from the Asia-Pacific Group under the FATF.
Finally, potential for further cooperation on research and innovation was explored along with possibilities for enhancing EU-Laos cooperation in the cultural field and the promotion of university exchanges.
This year the EU and the Lao PDR celebrate the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Cooperation Agreement, which provides the legal basis for the Joint Committee. The Joint Committee meets every other year, alternately in Vientiane and Brussels. It allows the EU and Lao PDR to formulate recommendations and set common priorities. The EU and Lao PDR also cooperate on the regional and international stage in such fora as ASEAN, ASEM or ARF Summits.