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Cablegate: Minister of Commerce Welcomes U.S. Investment

VZCZCXRO9158
RR RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHVN #0114/01 0460838
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 150838Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY VIENTIANE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1836
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 VIENTIANE 000114

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

STATE FOR EAP/MLS BESTIC
STATE FOR EEB/ESC
STATE FOR DS/IP/EAP
STATE PASS USTR BISBEE
COMMERCE FOR HP PHO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL ECON EINV EMIN ENRG PINR LA
SUBJECT: MINISTER OF COMMERCE WELCOMES U.S. INVESTMENT


1. (U) Summary: The Ambassador paid his initial official calls on
Minister of Industry and Commerce Nam Viyaketh, whose father, Samane
Viyaketh, is #2 in the Politburo, and Governor of the Lao Central
Bank Phouphet Khamphounvong on February 11. Minister Nam welcomed
U.S. investment in Laos and emphasized the positive role the U.S.
has played in Lao's WTO accession process. The Ambassador noted his
intention to encourage more U.S. investment in Laos, embracing
Minister Nam's statement that Laos is "open for business." Governor
Phouphet spoke repeatedly of the Government of Laos' cooperation
with the U.S. in combating terrorist financing and money laundering.
He also requested the U.S. allow Eximbank to operate in Laos. The
Ambassador explained that the USG is examining the Eximbank
restrictions. End Summary.

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Meeting with Minister Nam
-------------------------

2. (U) The Ambassador paid his initial official call on Minister of
Industry and Commerce Nam Viyaketh on February 11. (The Ambassador
had previously met with Minister Nam on a number of business and
social occasions.) The Minister laid out a positive vision of U.S.
economic engagement with Laos, emphasizing the constructive role
played by the U.S. delegation in Geneva during WTO negotiations and
the Government of Laos' (GOL) ongoing relationship with the United
States Trade Representative (USTR). The Minister noted that the GOL
continued to have difficulty implementing the Bilateral Trade
Agreement (BTA), and was grateful for the State Department funded
technical assistance provided by Nathan Associates to help with WTO
accession and BTA implementation. Minister Nam stated that the GOL
would like to see more U.S. investment in Laos.

3. (SBU) Minister Nam was frank in his assessment of the Lao
temperament, noting that many Lao prefer non-taxing office jobs to
hard work and are often out-competed by Vietnamese and Chinese who
are coming into the country pursuing economic opportunities. He
hopes that increased freedom for private businesses will allow the
Lao population to increase its entrepreneurial activity. The
Minister was also hopeful that as regional currencies appreciated,
investors such as the Japanese would look to Laos as a centrally
located country for future investment in labor-intensive
manufacturing. The Asian Development Bank-financed East-West
Corridor, along with the soon to be completed rail connection to
Thailand's railroad network, are realizing the GOL vision of Laos as
a "land-linked" country. Minister Nam noted that the GOL was
looking at ways to attract overseas Lao back to Laos to encourage
them to share the experience they have gained overseas.

4. (U) The Ambassador emphasized his desire to see more U.S.
companies invest in Laos to take advantage of the economy's rapid
and sustained growth, and briefly discussed the planned U.S. Chamber
of Commerce sponsored business mission to Laos, scheduled for early
May. He noted the importance of further development of Lao human
resources, and the potential payoff from using some of the energy
generated in Laos for internal development vice sale to neighboring
countries. After describing the success of numerous Lao
entrepreneurs in America, the Ambassador urged the Minister to see
Lao-Americans as a resource, and to focus on measures, such as dual
nationality and property ownership rights, to attract their
investment capital back to Laos.

-----------------
Governor Phouphet
-----------------

5. (U) In the Ambassador's call on Bank of Laos Governor Phouphet
Khamphounvong, the Governor repeatedly stressed the GOL's
cooperation with the USG on money laundering and terrorism finance
while discussing Laos' strong economic performance in 2007.
Governor Phouphet appeared especially pleased that Lao GDP growth,
which he said was 8% in 2007, exceeded the government's projection
of 7.5%. The Governor also requested the USG allow Eximbank to
operate within Laos.

6. (U) The Ambassador praised the modernization and growth of the
Lao economy and told the Governor of his interest in attracting more
U.S. investors. He discussed current U.S.-Lao cooperation on money
laundering and detecting counterfeit U.S. currency and requested a
copy of the new implementing decree for the Anti-Money Laundering
law; the copy was delivered following the meeting. Ambassador Huso
also noted the USG was studying the issues surrounding the
prohibition on Eximbank activity in Laos.

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Bio Notes

VIENTIANE 00000114 002 OF 002


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7. (SBU) Nam Viyaketh has been Minister of Industry and Commerce
since 2006. Previously, he served as Vice Minister of Industry and
Handicraft, the precursor Ministry to Industry and Commerce. He has
a Ph.D. in economics from the Academy of Social Sciences in Moscow.
He is #46 on the party central committee. His father, Samane
Viyaketh, is #2 in the Politburo and was President of the National
Assembly from 1992 until 2006. Despite his Soviet education and
strong family party ties, Minister Nam is one of the most
outward-looking members of the government and has consistently been
frank and friendly in his conversations with Post. His English is
quite fluent.

8. (SBU) Phouphet Khamphounvong has been Governor of the Bank of
Lao since 2006. Governor Phouphet's association with the Bank of
Lao covers virtually his entire professional career; he has ascended
from his first position as a bank officer in Savanakhet Province in
1976. Phouphet served as both Deputy Governor and Acting Governor
of the Bank of Lao before assuming his current position. He has a
Bachelors Degree in Economics from the Institute of Banking in
Hanoi.

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