A Failure to Learn from the Past: The US – Laos NTR Coalition to Support United States Normal Trade Relations (NTR)

Cached:  http://www.ffrd.org/indochina/laos/laopacket.htm

The US – Laos NTR Coalition

Urging Congress and Senate

to Support United States

Normal Trade Relations (NTR)

with Laos

NTR Bills

House Bill H.R. 3943

&

Senate Bill S2200

Summary

Normal Trade Relations (NTR) Agreement is Essential to Laos

Laos is one of the least developing countries in the Southeast Asian region and is one of the poorest countries in the world. The US-NTR Coalition strongly believes that granting Normal Trade Relations (NTR) agreement to Laos will bring these following benefits:

  • Increased economic opportunities;
  • Stimulated foreign investment;
  • Improved gradual socio-economics and political transformations;
  • Improved bilateral relationships between the two countries;
  • Contributed improvement of Human Rights;
  • Reduced the level of poverty;
  • Restored mutual respect and trust between Laotian-Americans and all peoples in Laos

Contact us:

US – Laos NTR Coalition

info@USlaosntr.org

http://www.USlaosntr.org

Content

1.      REPRESENTATIVE PHILIP M. CRANE INTRODUCES H.R.3943

  1. 2. SENATOR MAX BAUCUS INTRODUCES S2200
  2. MATTHEW DALEY, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR EAST ASIA AND PACIFICS. Saint Paul Pioneer Press. Fri, Feb. 27, 2004

3.      LETTER FROM SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN L. POWELL & U.S. TRADE REPRESENTATIVE ROBERT B. ZOELICK

5. ARGUMENT FOR LAO NTR

6.      LETTER US-ASEAN BUSINESS COUNCIL TO THE HONORABLE PHILIP M. CRANE

7.      LETTER FROM NGO TO U.S. TRADE REPRESENTATIVE THE HONORABLE ROBERT B. ZOELLICK

8.      THE LAOTIAN MULTI-ETHNIC ALLIANCE FOR US-LAOS FRIENDSHIP WROTE TO THE HONERABLE PHILLIP M. CRANE

9.     By Mr. San Souvannasoth, Dr. Yang Dao, Chair

10.  ARTICLE BY CATHARIN DALPINO AND EDWARD GRESSER

11.  ARTICLE BY PROFESSOR GRANT EVENS

12.  LETTER FROM LAO NTR SUPPORTERS TO U.S. CONGRESS

13. US-Lao Relations in 2004 – The Course Ahead by U.S. Ambassador  Douglas Hartwick

14. US–Laos NTR Coalition Visits Laos

15. Members of the U.S. – Laos NTR Coalition

16. FACT SHEET ON LAOS

17. MAP OF LAOS

REPRESENTATIVE PHILIP M. CRANE INTRODUCES H.R.3943

108th CONGRESS

2d Session

Bill H. R. 3943

To extend nondiscriminatory treatment (normal trade relations treatment) to the products of Laos.

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

March 11, 2004

Mr. CRANE (for himself, Ms. MCCOLLUM, Mr. HOUGHTON, Mr. DOOLEY of California, Mr. WELLER, Mr. CASE, Mr. KOLBE, Mr. EVANS, Mr. PITTS, Mr. CROWLEY, and Mr. LARSON of Connecticut) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Ways and Means


A BILL

To extend nondiscriminatory treatment (normal trade relations treatment) to the products of Laos.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. EXTENSION OF NORMAL TRADE RELATIONS TO LAOS.

(a) Findings- Congress finds that–

(1) the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is pursuing a broad policy of adopting market-based reforms to enhance its economic competitiveness and achieve an attractive climate for investment;

(2) extension of normal trade relations treatment would assist the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in developing its economy based on free market principles and becoming competitive in the global marketplace;

(3) establishing normal commercial relations on a reciprocal basis with the Lao People’s Democratic Republic will promote United States exports to the rapidly growing southeast Asian region and expand opportunities for United States business and investment in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic economy;

(4) United States and Laotian commercial interests would benefit from the bilateral trade agreement between the United States and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, signed in 2003, providing for market access and the protection of intellectual property rights;

(5) the Lao People’s Democratic Republic has taken cooperative steps with the United States in the global war on terrorism, combating the trafficking of narcotics, and the accounting for American servicemen and civilians still missing from the Vietnam war; and

(6) expanding bilateral trade relations that include a commercial agreement may promote further progress by the Lao People’s Democratic Republic on human rights, religious tolerance, democratic rule, and transparency, and assist that country in adopting regional and world trading rules and principles.

(b) Extension of Nondiscriminatory Treatment to the Products of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic-

(1) Harmonized tariff schedule amendment- General note 3(b) of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States is amended by striking `Laos’.

(2) Effective date- The amendment made by paragraph (1) applies with respect to goods entered, or withdrawn from warehouse for consumption, on or after the effective date of a notice published in the Federal Register by the United States Trade Representative that a trade agreement obligating reciprocal most-favored-nation treatment between the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and the United States has entered into force.

END

SENATOR MAX BAUCUS

INTRODUCES S2200

Baucus Calls for Normal Trade Relations for Laos

Chairman and Ranking Member of Finance Committee Introduce NTR Legislation

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) U.S. Senators Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley, Ranking Member and Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, today joined together to introduce legislation that would provide Laos with Normal Trade Relations (NTR).  Baucus urged quick passage of the bill, citing that Laos is the only country with which the United States has full diplomatic relations that does not have NTR.

NTR, formerly known as Most-Favored-Nation Treatment, generally provides that all countries the U.S. trades with are treated equally and ensures that any trade benefits or concessions accorded to one country apply to all.

“The denial of NTR to Laos is an unfortunate continuing after-effect of the Vietnam War, which should now be corrected given Laos’s cooperation in accounting for U.S. prisoners of war and MIA’s since the Vietnam War, and the country’s support for our counterterrorism efforts since September 11,” Baucus said. “Providing Laos with NTR could significantly improve the country’s economy and help their people. Currently, half the population lives below the government’s own defined poverty line, which is unacceptable. We need to pass this legislation quickly.”

Baucus stated that Laos has taken a number of steps showcasing the country’s commitment to working together with the United States.  For example, Laos and the U.S. have a long-term bilateral counter-narcotics program in place, which involves multimillion-dollar crop substitution and a rural development program.  Laos has taken additional steps to wage a war on the production of illegal drugs by forming its own national committee on narcotics, developing a long-range strategy for counter-narcotics activities, participating in U.S.-sponsored narcotics training programs, and working to improve law enforcement measures to combat the narcotics problem.

The United States and Laos have also negotiated a bilateral trade agreement, which concluded in 1997 and was signed in September 2003.

“Our bilateral trade agreement was an important step forward that obligates Laos to open its markets to U.S. goods and services and to protect U.S. intellectual property rights, but this agreement can’t go into effect until NTR is granted to Laos,” Baucus added. “Granting NTR to Laos will create opportunities to open the society and improve human rights, religious freedom, and the rule of law in Laos.  The country has a lot of work to do, but by granting NTR, we’ll bring Laos more fully into the trade fold and help alleviate a number of their economic and societal problems.”

As proof of the abilities of NTR to improve economies, Baucus added that more than 200,000 jobs have been created in Cambodia since that country received NTR in 1996.

Eleven members of the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Representative Phillip Crane (R-Ill.), introduced the identical legislation in the House today.

Laura Hayes

Communications Director

U.S. Senate Finance Committee – Minority

Senator Max Baucus, Ranking Member

202-224-4351

LETTER FROM

SECRETARY OF STATE L. COLIN POWELL &

U.S. TRADE REPRESENTATIVE ROBERT B. ZOELLICK

February 26, 2003

SUMMARY

On February 25, the Administration sent to Capitol Hill its request that Congress support normal trade relations to Laos. The letters, signed by Secretary of State Colin Powell and United States Trade Representative (U.S.TR) Robert Zoellick, went

to Chairman William R. Thomas and Ranking Member Charles B. Rangel of the House Ways & Means Committee and to Chairman Charles E. Grassley and Ranking Member Max Baucus of the Senate Finance Committee. (Text appears below).

Dear Mr. Chairman/Ranking Member:

The Administration seeks your support for extending normal trade relations (NTR) status to Laos and for bringing into force the comprehensive bilateral trade agreement that the United States concluded with Laos in 1997. Extension of NTR treatment to Laos, which requires legislation, is necessary to enable the Administration to bring the Agreement into force.

Laos, the only Indochinese country with which the United States has maintained unbroken ties through the Vietnam War and its aftermath, is, paradoxically, the only remaining one of the three which still lacks NTR status. Laos, in fact, is one of only four countries worldwide and the only least developed country to which the United States does not extend NTR.

In areas of concern to the United States, Laos has been cooperative, working closely with U.S. to obtain the fullest possible accounting for our prisoners of war and those missing in action. In addition, we have a long-term bilateral counter-narcotics program including successful alternative development programs. Laos has also responded to our requests for support and cooperation on counter-terrorism following the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Laos is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, an organization with which we are working to strengthen and promote regional stability and to enhance regional counter-terrorism cooperation. Toward this end, the President announced the Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative (EAI), with a focus on increased investment and, as conditions permit, bilateral free trade agreements. A key step in adding substance to this initiative is granting NTR for Laos.

The Administration shares the Congress’s concerns about the Lao government’s human rights record, especially with respect to religious freedom and protection of minority rights for its citizens. We continue to press the Lao government on these important issues on a regular and active basis, in Washington and through the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane. The Administration believes that extending NTR to Laos will create a more cooperative atmosphere and opportunities that will help open the society and leverage our efforts to improve human rights, religious freedom and rule of law in Laos.

Moreover, we believe that through normalized trade ties with the United States, Laos will become more integrated in the world trade system. Laos is in the early stages of negotiations to become a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The total volume of two-way U.S.-Lao trade is currently less than 10 million dollars annually.

We do not expect the absolute volume of trade to increase markedly following extension of NTR, since Laos is on the United Nations list of least developed countries and has a population of just 5.5 million. However, NTR will open a window of opportunity. Column 2 tariff rates now in effect are prohibitive and suppress the very entrepreneurial spirit we wish to encourage.

The bilateral trade agreement that will come into force following extension of NTR will also promote U.S. interests. The agreement will obligate Laos to open its markets to U.S. goods and services, and to protect U.S. intellectual property rights. This agreement will represent an important step toward economic reform and openness, key U.S. priorities in Laos.

We would like to work with you to determine the best means for moving forward legislatively to grant NTR status for Laos.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Robert B. Zoellick            Colin L. Powell

U.S. Trade Representative       Secretary of State

MATTHEW DALEY, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR EAST ASIA AND PACIFICS

Saint Paul Pioneer Press. Fri, Feb. 27, 2004

Posted on Fri, Feb. 27, 2004

U.S. spells out advice to Hmong

BY TOM WEBB

Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON — Hmong-American leaders received both a warm welcome and a

stern warning at the U.S. State Department on Thursday, as the U.S.

government tries to improve relations across Southeast Asia after painful decades of war, division and distrust.

For 50 Hmong and Lao leaders from Minnesota and elsewhere, the

history-making moment became clear during three hours of discussion with top State Department officials. Topic A was the upcoming resettlement of Hmong refugees from Thailand’s Wat Tham Krabok refugee camp, but improving trade, human rights and religious freedoms also were discussed.

Then came the blunt warning: It’s illegal to aid insurgents still operating in Laos, and the United States has no tolerance for Hmong-Americans who do. Matthew Daley, deputy assistant secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, was explicit.

“We know that in Laos there have been planned attacks on civilians in the past year, and we regard those as acts of terrorism,” Daley said in an interview after the private meeting. “To the extent that those acts may have been facilitated or supported in some way by persons in the United States, American law is engaged, as well as American policy.”

To hammer home the point, a top official from the U.S. Justice Department was on hand to remind the Hmong leaders of federal law.

“The room was very quiet, and I think people are going to reflect on what the Department of Justice said,” said U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-St. Paul, who attended the meeting. Two people asked about rumors of a Justice Department investigation into Hmong-American support of rebel activities.

Said McCollum, “The Justice Department, although it could not comment on any possible ongoing investigation, made it very clear to everyone in the room that the U.S. government will not tolerate activities that are directed in a violent or unfriendly manner against governments we are at peace with.”

Originally, the Hmong were tribal people from the mountains and jungles of Laos. They secretly allied with the United States during the Vietnam War.

After the communist takeover, many Hmong fled their homeland and became

refugees. Many resettled in the United States, especially in Minnesota and Wisconsin. For some, the passion to fight for their homeland still burns.

But more and more, a new generation of Hmong-Americans hopes for progress in Laos through engagement — improving trade, building better international relations, pushing for human rights and fostering travel. Despite the stern warning, Thursday’s gathering was mostly focused on ways to bolster such engagement, in part by finally resolving some issues lingering from the Vietnam era. The resettlement of some 14,000 Hmong refugees in Thailand, a big step in that process, dominated the discussion.

“I think this meeting was great,” said Dr. Yang Dao of Minneapolis. “This meeting gave U.S. a lot of information about U.S. policy toward Laos,” including normalizing trade relations.

In previous years, some of the refugees now living at Wat Tham Krabok chose to remain there. If there’s one message the State Department wanted to send Thursday, it was that this is their last chance to move to the United States.

Daley said the message was that “we have a one-time opportunity to do this and that people who do not take this opportunity to do this may forfeit it forever.”

The timetable is very short. “We have begun interviews. We expect to begin the first movements of people in July of this year, and we expect to have this program completed this year. Not in a year, this year — 2004,” Daley said.

That message was heard.

“It is the last chance for them,” Yang Dao said.

Teom Webb can be reached at twebb@krwashington.com or 202-383-6049

http://www.twincities.com/mld/twincities/news/8052340.htm


ARGUMENTS FOR LAO NTR


ARGUMENTs FOR LAO NTR

  1. Fairness. All of Laos’s neighbors, including Vietnam, China, Cambodia and Burma, have NTR. There is no reason to single Laos out.  The only other countries in the world without NTR are Cuba and North Korea, both of which do not have normal diplomatic relations with the US. (Afghanistan and Serbia/Montenegro recently received NTR, while Libya, Burma and Iran face US trade sanctions but have never lost NTR status.)
  2. Historical responsibility. The US fought a secret war in Laos from 1964-1973, the extent of which is still relatively unknown. The legacy of the war includes “bombies” and other UXO as well as Agent Orange and other herbicides. Laos deserves at least normal treatment from the US on this basis.
  3. Economics. Laos is a poor developing country that needs more contact with the outside world to stay afloat. A more prosperous Laos is in the US interest.
  4. Counternarcotics. Passage of the trade agreement is the most cost-effective way to fight opium poppy production, by enabling Lao farmers to produce silk and other products for the US market.
  5. Lao-American cultural and business contacts. Americans of Lao descent should be able to travel and do business freely with their country of origin. American veterans are also interested in these opportunities.

RESPONSES TO OPPOSING ARGUMENTS

  1. Human rights and religious Freedom. Laos does have problems in these areas, as do many of its neighbors. These are legitimate issues for discussion and dialogue with the Lao government. The U.S. can contribute to solutions through greater engagement, not isolation. Improvements will come with cooperation on specific issues and cases, rather than linking human rights to trade.
  2. Ly-Vang disappearance case (April 1999). Resolution of this case is a consular matter that should have no bearing on trade status. American citizens go missing all over the world for many reasons. Regardless of what activities Ly and Vang were involved in when they disappeared, the U.S. and Laos should continue to investigate the case.
  3. Alleged discrimination towards the Hmong and other ethnic groups. While income and education gaps among regions and ethnicities in Laos can be great, there is no legal discrimination against specific minority groups. The so-called “Hmong lobby” in the U.S. includes remnants of the CIA-backed Hmong insurgency during the war who seek to overthrow the current Lao government or create a separate Hmong state. They do not speak for all Lao and Hmong in the U.S. and routinely intimidate and harass their opponents. Some members may be involved in funding terrorist activities inside Laos.

The fact sheet and argument list were prepared by Andrew Wells-Dang, Washington Representative of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development. Andrew can be reached at Hanoi@ffrd.org

THE LAOTIAN MULTI-ETHNIC ALLIANCE

FOR U.S.-LAOS FRIENDSHIP

WROTE TO

THE HONERABLE PHILLIP M. CRANE

By Mr. San Souvannasoth, Dr. Yang Dao, Chair

THE LAOTIAN MULTI-ETHNIC ALLIANCE

FOR U.S.A.-LAOSFRIENDSHIP

April 15, 2003                                                                                        MINNESOTA STATE

REPRESENTATION

The Honorable Phillip Crane
Chairman, Subcommittee on Trade
House Ways & Means Committee

233 Cannon House Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Chairman Crane:

We are a group of Laotian Americans from various ethnic backgrounds of Laos (Lao, Hmong, Khmu, U-Mien, Thaidam, Lue, etc.).  We all came together to form the Laotian Multi-Ethnic Alliance for U.S.A.-Laos Friendship, whose ultimate purpose is to promote education, economic development, and social and political progress within the Laotian multi-ethnic communities both in the United States and Laos.
On behalf of our Laotian Multi-Ethnic Alliance for U.S.A.-Laos Friendship, which has representation in various states of the United States, we have the honor of writing to urge you to move forward legislation to establish Normal Trade Relations (NTR) with Laos. We are well aware that NTR with Laos has been strongly endorsed by Secretary of State Powell and U.S. Trade Representative Zoellick. As new Americans having roots in Laos, we would like to express our strong support of the Bush Administration’s Trade Initiative in Southeast Asia and, more particularly, its extension of Normal Trade Relations with Laos.

Our Laotian Multi-Ethnic Alliance for U.S.A.-Laos Friendship is not unaware of human rights abuses, ethnic profiling, religious discrimination, etc. in Laos after the takeover by the communist Pathet Lao in 1975. Fearing for our life, along with our families, we fled the country – mostly by foot – across Laotian jungles to take the road of exile.  Dr. Yang Dao (1), a Hmong educator and scholar and the current National Chair of this alliance in support of the Bush Administration’s Trade Initiative, wrote several articles (2), published as early as 1980 in France and in the U.S., denouncing arbitrary arrests by the communist Pathet Lao authorities who had sent tens of thousand royal Lao cadres, technicians and intellectuals to the “political reeducation camps” (3), and condemning the communist Pathet Lao’s violent repression against the Hmong population in Northeastern Laos. These efforts have contributed to the many but slow changes made by the current government of Laos.
______________________________________________________________________________

(1) Yang Dao is a Hmong from Laos. He received his Ph.D. in social science at the Sorbonne, University of Paris,

France, in 1972. From 1972 to 1974, he was a director in the Ministry of Planning of the Royal Lao Government. From April 1974 to May 1975, he was appointed by the King of Laos to the National Political Council of Coalition (Congress) of the Kingdom of Laos. He has authored and co-authored several books on Hmong history, culture and traditions. He is now a faculty member of the Asian Cultures and Literatures Department of the University of Minnesota.

(2) Gas Warfare: the Communist Solution to the Problems of the Minorities in Laos (in French) in Les Temps

Modernes, Paris, France, 1980; Why Did the Hmong Leave Laos? (in English) in Hmong in the West, University of Minnesota, U.S.A. in 1982; and Human Rights and Gas Warfare in Laos (in English) in Southeast Asia Review, Geneva, Switzerland, 1984.
(3) The “political reeducation camps”, established along the Laos-Vietnam border after the takeover Laos

by the communist Pathet Lao in 1975, reportedly looked like the Soviet gulags.

However, twenty eight years have passed since the Vietnam War ended in 1975, and the world has profoundly changed. In 1991, democracy prevailed over Communism in the former U.S.S.R. In October 2002, China officially adopted a more liberal system leading toward capitalism. Under international political and economic pressures, Laos must follow this move. According to the Bush Administration and the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane, Laos is showing signs of moving toward religious freedom, human rights and economic reforms. After 27 years of exile, Dr. Yang Dao was invited by the government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to visit Laos in November 2002. He observed that the current Lao Government has adopted a multi-ethnic policy to consolidate national unity in Laos, and as a result, Hmong, Khmu and other Laotian ethnic minorities are actively participating in the government, filling regional and national leadership positions ranging from city mayor to provincial governor to government minister. Thus, for the first time in Laotian history, a Laotheung (4) has become the Prime Minister of Laos and a Hmong woman acts as the Vice-President of the Laotian National Assembly.

In these new perspectives, our Laotian Multi-Ethnic Alliance for U.S.A.-Laos Friendship strongly believes that, if granted, the U.S. Normal Trade Relations (NTR) will have a catalytic effect on the rate of economic, social and political reforms in Laos.

a) Economic Reform:

The U.S. NTR would contribute to creating crucial opportunities to increase employment in Laos by providing legal and institutional frameworks which would develop the private sector and encourage foreign investments to accelerate the economic reform in Laos. This will further strengthen anti-narcotic efforts by strengthening substitute crops and industries (coffee, tropical fruits, medicinal plants, etc.). The U.S. NTR, indeed, would reduce duties to 2.4 % and allow Laos to export agricultural products and other kinds of merchandise to U.S. markets. This transaction would benefit both the multi-ethnic population of Laos and the Laotian-American community.

b) Social Reform:

By establishing a constructive dialogue with Laotian authorities, the U.S. NTR would contribute to promoting social welfare and to developing the education system in Laos. Standardizing education in Laos would create a strong foundation for social reform which respects human rights and defends social justice for all Laotian citizens of all ethnic backgrounds.  The Lao, Hmong, Khmu, U-Mien, Thai-Dam, Lue, and other Laotian peoples would live in the same community of destiny: national consciousness.

c) Political Reform:

Through a mutual understanding and trust with the Laotian government, the U.S. NTR would contribute to accelerating political reform by promoting civil rights and democratic liberties. Such political reform would contribute to strengthening national solidarity, assuring political stability in Laos and maintaining peace in Southeast Asia and the world over.

______________________________________________________________________________ (4) Laotheung is the largest ethnic minority which includes the Khmu group and represents 27 percent of the total population of Laos.  Our Laotian Multi-Ethnic Alliance for U.S.A.-Laos Friendship strongly supports the Bush Administration’s Trade Initiative and its extension of Normal Trade Relations with Laos for these reasons above, as well as the following:

1. To Enhance U.S.A.-Laos Special Relations:

Since Laos became an independent country in 1954, its diplomatic relations with the U.S.A. have never been interrupted in spite of political difficulties and ideological changes. By irony of fate, today this tiny country is still denied NTR status which has been granted to Vietnam and Cambodia which, paradoxically, broke ties with the United States during the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Therefore, our Multi-Laotian Ethnic Alliance for U.S.A.-Laos Friendship feels that it is only fair that NTR treatment be also extended to Laos, whose human rights record is not worse than that of Cambodia, Vietnam or China. NTR status. indeed will contribute to heal the wounds of the past, to strengthen U.S.A.-Laos friendship and to help the Laotian people from all ethnic backgrounds who still have parents, brothers, sisters and relatives both in Laos and in the United States of America to work together for the future.

2. U.S. Economic Expansion in Southeast Asia:

Laos is a landlocked and poor country with a population of 5.2 millions. However it possesses a significant amount of arable land (50% of which is still covered with dense forests), a variety of natural resources (iron, zinc, silver, gold, sapphire, etc.) and a huge reserve of hydroelectric resources which draws the attention of a number of potential suitors.

Since 1987, Laos has become a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (A.S.E.A.N.), which includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. A.S.E.A.N. countries constitute a market of 500 million people. Laos’ main exports include electricity, garments, wood and wood products, coffee, small handicrafts, hand-made textiles, and some agricultural and forest products. Its trading partners are mainly countries in the SE Asian sub-region, particularly Thailand and Vietnam.

In 1998, Laos’s textile products were granted quota and duty free status by the European Union (EU). Since then, about 25% of its total garment exports are sold to EU countries, particularly France. China is moving forward with negotiations with Laos and other A.S.E.A.N. countries for a China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and Japan and Europe are also beginning to implement similar arrangements with A.S.E.A.N.

In this international trading context, it is in the interest of the United States to extend NTR status to Laos, which plays an increasing role in Southeast Asia and in the world, attested by its hosting in 2002 the first A.S.E.A.N.-EU trade meeting, in Vientiane, capital of Laos. With U.S. NTR and with its low labor and energy costs and tremendous amounts of arable land, Laos would be able to export to the United States processed tropical food, instant coffee, and other labor-intensive products such as shoes and leather items as well as some minerals. Furthermore, given its unique culture and ethnic diversity, Laos would sell its silk weavings, furniture and timber products, and Hmong traditional clothing to meet the needs of about 500,000 Laotian Americans of various ethnic backgrounds and more than one million Asian Americans from different cultures in the United States of America active in the U.S. market.

3. To Increase U.S. Political Presence in Southeast Asia:

Right in the middle of the Mekong River region, Laos has always been a crossroad of migrations and trade from China to Cambodia and from Thailand to Vietnam. Thus, for centuries, its geographic situation made this tiny country an avenue for transit of goods and ideas. Contemporary history demonstrated Laos’ strategic importance during the Vietnam conflict.

In this context, Laos is called to play a more and more important role in Asia, due to its geographic situation and its various natural resources. “At any time, officials from China, Vietnam and Thailand are courting their Lao counterparts in the hope that their efforts will be rewarded with mining, hydropower and logging contracts, and convenient access to each other’s markets” wrote Catherine McKinley, in a Dow Jones Newswire Column (February 4, 2003).

Therefore, extending the NTR status to Laos would greatly contribute to reinforcing the U.S. presence in Southeast Asia. With the increasing threat of international terrorism, this presence is essential to maintaining peace and political stability in Asia.

In conclusion, on behalf of our Laotian Multi-Ethnic Alliance for U.S.A.-Laos Friendship, we would like to express our gratitude to you and your Subcommittee for giving us the opportunity to explain the reasons for our support of extending U.S. NTR to Laos.  We strongly  urge you to move forward legislation to establish Normal Trade Relations with Laos, which will greatly benefit our two countries and our two populations. For your high consideration, we are enclosing petitions signed by members of the Laotian American communities in support of this letter and granting NTR to Laos.

With great respect,

Mr. San Souvannasoth, Co-Chair                                    Dr. Yang Dao, Chair
Laotian Multi-Ethnic Alliance                                         Laotian Multi-Ethnic Alliance

for U.S.A.-Laos Friendship                                            for U.S.A.-Laos Friendship
5908  91 Trail                                                                6332 Georgia Avenue N

Brooklyn Park, MN 55443                                             Brooklyn Park, MN 55428

Telephone: (763) 425-3331                                             Telephone: (763) 533-3446

LETTER US-ASEAN BUSINESS COUNCIL TO THE HONORABLE

PHILIP M. CRANE

US-ASEAN Business Council

April 1, 2003

The Honorable Philip M. Crane
Chairman
Subcommittee on Trade
Committee on Ways and Means
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Crane:

On behalf of the US-ASEAN Business Council and its 150 member companies
doing business in the ASEAN countries, I am writing to express our
support for the extension of normal trade relations (NTR) to Laos. The
Council has been on record in support of NTR for Laos since the
negotiation of a bilateral trade agreement between the United States and
the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in 1997. We agree with the
Committee Advisory’s March 5 statement soliciting comments that
ratification of the agreement “will represent an important step toward
economic reform and openness, key U.S. priorities in Laos.”

As we noted in our third annual submission of recommendations to the
Executive and Legislative Branches of the U.S. Government, the
importance of the ASEAN region to American political, economic and
security interests is increasing and there is a lot that needs to be
done to increase our engagement of ASEAN and its member nations. In our
most recent paper of February, 2003 we specifically listed the
establishment of Normal Trading Relations with Laos as an achievable
accomplishment for 2003.

Furthermore, the Administration itself is fully supportive of NTR for
Laos as the joint letter of February 24, 2003 from Secretary of State
Colin Powell and United States Trade Representative Robert Zoellick
attests. Granting NTR to Laos would also be a step forward to achieving
the laudable goals set out by President George Bush during the October
2002 APEC meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico. There President Bush in his
Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative pledged to work with countries like Laos
in their quest to meet the requirements for WTO accession.

Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world, but thanks to its
lack of normal trading relations with the U.S. is subject to the highest
average tariffs. According to an analysis by Ed Gresser of Progressive
Policy Institute, Laos faces the highest average tariffs in the world
(45.3%), higher even than North Korea’s (35%) and Yugoslavia’s (27.7%).
Typical rates are 8-10%. Laos now exports garments, gems and jewelry,
agricultural products, hydro-electricity, timber, labor and narcotics
(illegally). As a matter of U.S. national interest, if we would like Laos
to export less in the last three categories, we have to help them export
more in the first four. Extending NTR is key to that.

The Lao Government is taking steps toward free market reforms. Agreeing
to the bilateral trade agreement with the United States in 1997 is
certainly an important indication of a willingness to open the country
up to the outside world. We at the Council are fully aware that trade
agreements negotiated by the Executive Branch and approved, hopefully,
by the Congress are only the first stage of stronger and mutually
beneficial economic ties. It is imperative that the Government of Laos
provide American companies and their own state and private enterprises
with the legal framework and operational authority they need to pursue
successful trade and investments. Additionally, the Lao Government needs
to continue its commendable work on addressing POW/MIA issues and
stemming the flow of narcotics.

We commend you and the Committee for considering taking this long
overdue step to normalize economic relations between the United States
and Laos. We look forward to working with you to achieve this. Thank you
for your consideration.

Sincerely yours,

Ernest Z. Bower
President
U.S.-ASEAN Business Council


LETTER FROM NGO TO U.S. TRADE REPRESENTATIVE THE HONORABLE ROBERT B. ZOELLICK

NGO to The Honorable Robert B. Zoellick United States Trade Representative

January 14, 2003

The Honorable Robert B. Zoellick

United States Trade Representative

209A Winder Building

600 17th Street, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20506
Dear Ambassador Zoellick,

We, the undersigned Laotian-Americans, representatives of non-governmental organizations and business associations, and concerned individuals thank you for your support of the U.S.-Laos Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA).  We urge you to submit the BTA to the 108th Congress as soon as it convenes for prompt consideration and passage.  We represent a diverse group of backgrounds and interests, but we are all united in our conviction that the United States and Laos will benefit greatly from the normal trade relations (NTR) that will follow Congressional passage.

As you know, Laos is one of only seven countries under non-NTR or embargo-type policies in U.S. foreign policy.  The denial of NTR to Laos in light of normal trade relations granted to Vietnam and Cambodia makes little sense.  The United States and Laos signed the BTA in 1997, and its ratification forms part of President Bush’s trade agenda.  President Bush recently cited Laos as one of the countries included in the Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative, with the aim of helping that country, Cambodia and Vietnam integrate into the international economy.  Moreover, bilateral efforts to address POW/MIA issues and stem the flow of narcotics continue to be productive.

We are mindful that trade agreements negotiated by the Executive Branch and approved by Congress are only the first stage of stronger and more mutually beneficial ties.  It is incumbent upon the government of Laos to provide American companies and their own state and private enterprises with the legal framework and operational authority they need to pursue successful trade and investments.

After 1975, the United States and Laos maintained official ties when relations with Vietnam and Cambodia had been completely severed.  It is time to remove discriminatory tariff barriers and  to take this last major step toward the normalization of relations.  We look forward to working with you to achieve this.  Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely yours,

Tim Chansy*                                                      Dave Elder

Senior Technical Support,                                   American Friends Service Committee

Advent Software, Inc.

Soutsakhone Vengthisane*                                 Touk Praseuthsy*

Architect of the Capitol                           Ariel Capital Management, Inc.

Mary Kay Crouch                                              Chantip Phongkamsavath*

Professor                                                            Center for Policy Alternatives

California State University, Fullerton

Tony R. Culley-Foster                            John McAuliff

President                                                            Executive Director,

CFCO International                                            Fund for Reconciliation and Development

Susan Hammond                                                Justin McDaniel

Deputy Director                                                  Harvard University

Fund for Reconciliation and Development

Anousak Souphavanh                                         Sengfo Chao*

Network Technologist                                        Co-Founder

IBM                                                                   Iu Mien American National Coalition, Inc.

Terry E. Miller                                        Soulivanh Khamvongsay*

Professor                                                            Founding President

Kent State University                                          Lao-American Exchange Institute

Steve Chantrirak*                                               Betsy Headrick McCrae

President                                                            Director, East Asia Program

Lao-American Exchange Institute                        Mennonite Central Committee

Refaat Abdel-Malek                                           Michael Musgrave

Vice Chairman                                        Chief Operating Officer

MWH                                                                MWH

Somsack Philayvanh*                                         Ann Mills Griffith

Mohegan Sun                                                     Executive Director

National League of POW-MIA Families

Susan D. Russell                                               John Hartman

Director, Southeast Asian Studies                     Professor

Northern Illinois University                                Northern Illinois University

Jacqueline Chagnon                                            Roger Rumpf

Participatory Development Associates     Participatory Development  Associates

Linda J. Yarr                                                      Dr. John Ferchek

Executive Director                                              Country Director

Program for International Studies in Asia             Quaker Service Laos

Paul Meyers                                                       Ernest Z. Bower

Executive Director                                              President

Ten Thousand Villages                            US-ASEAN Business Council

Virginia B. Foote                                                Sadachanh Sinantha*

Executive Director                                              Carrier Agreements Negotiator

US-Vietnam Trade Council                                 WorldCom, Inc.

Connie Woodberry

World Education

Tony Analathithada*                                           Alison Bolavong*

Fort Worth, Texas                                              Arlington, Virginia

Saimon Bouphone*                                            Anola Boutah*

New Britain, Connecticut

Bonnie Brereton                                                 Langsanh Chanthavisouk*

Ann Arbor, Michigan                                          Rochester, New York

Thip Chinthalasy*                                               Somphala Chomsisengphet*

Rochester, New York                                        Chevy Chase, Maryland

Catharin Dalpino                                                 Paul Doangpaphanh*

Washington, D.C.                                               New Britain, Connecticut

Ariah Francois                                                    Edward Gresser

Washington, D.C.                                               Washington, D.C.

Sidney Khotpanya*                                            Montatip Krishnamura*

Washington, D.C.

Chandy  Nerawith*                                            Nancy Penrose

Fort Worth, Texas                                              Redmond, Washington

Sivilay Phabmixay*                                             Jack Rattanavong*

Washington, D.C.                                               Bethesda, Maryland

Bob Retka                                                          Kim Retka

Madison, Virginia                                               Madison, Virginia

Kongphanh Santivong  *                        Nantakoun Santivong*

Washington, D.C.                                               Seattle, Washington

Narin Sihavong*                                                 Thomas Steinfatt

Falls Church, Virginia                                          Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Niphasone Souphom*                                        Vinya Sysamouth*

Alexandria, Virginia                                            Milwaukee, Wisconsin

John A. Szukalski                                               Claudi Gulaya Tang*

Rockville, Maryland

Sirisay Khammounkoun Tang*                Visith Eddy Tang*

Rockville, Maryland                                            Rockville, Maryland

Peter Whittlesey

Sacramento, California

*Laotian-American

(Institutions are listed for identification purposes.)

cc:        The Honorable Colin Powell, Secretary of State

The Honorable Charles Grassley, Chairman, Senate Finance Committee

The Honorable William Thomas, Chairman, House Ways and Means Committee


ARTICLE BY CATHARIN DALPINO AND EDWARD GRESSER


Article by Catharin Dalpino and Edward Gresser

Printed in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer Thursday, April 24, 2003: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/opinion/118902_laos.html

Remove a vestige of Vietnam War

By CATHARIN DALPINO AND EDWARD GRESSER
GUEST COLUMNISTS

As the United States moves to conclude a new war in a new era, it has unfinished business from a war in the now distant past. It is time to remove the last vestiges of the Vietnam War in U.S. policy toward small, isolated Laos.

Laos is one of only four countries from which the U.S. withholds Normal Trade Relations, with two others under embargo.

Trade has been normalized for years with Cambodia and more recently with Vietnam. In contrast, a bilateral trade agreement with Laos has languished for six years. To breech this divide, Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick have asked Congress to extend NTR to Laos.

Congress should say yes.

Laos is subject to unfortunate extremes. Half the population lives below the government’s own defined poverty line. Laos has the lowest life expectancy in Southeast Asia, and the highest fertility rate. It has the highest adult illiteracy rate, particularly among women. Laos holds another dubious. record: Having more ordnance dropped on it by the United States during the “Secret War” of the 1960s and 1970s than were used on Germany and Japan combined in World War II.

Laotians are still killed when they happen upon 30-year-old cluster bombs, which have entered the lexicon with the deceptive nickname “bombies.” As many as 10 million unexploded bombs are commonly thought to remain in Laos, but some experts put the number at three times more.

Economic isolation makes solutions to such problems even more difficult. Laos faces the highest tariffs in the world. In the absence of NTR, typical American tariffs on Laotian goods average 45 percent, and rise 60 to 90 percent for products such as T-shirts or bamboo chairs. By contrast, for the great majority of America’s 223 trading partners — including China, Burma, Cambodia and Vietnam — tariffs average 2.4 percent.

Granting NTR could have a significant effect on the Laotian economy. Cambodia offers a ready example. Since trade was normalized in 1996, Cambodian exports to the U.S. have jumped to a billion dollars worth of clothes, which in turn has created 200,000 urban jobs.

However, this step would have virtually no impact on the United States. At present, two-way trade is a scant $8 million, which U.S. Ambassador to Laos Douglas Hartwick likens to “less than the value of a handful of one-minute Super Bowl commercials.” By contrast, in the month of December 2002, U.S. foreign trade in exports and imports exceeded $200 billion.

There is good reason to extend NTR to Laos other than to reduce inequities and address the legacy of the Vietnam War. In contrast to other former Cold War adversaries, the Lao economy isn’t state-controlled so much as subsistence-based. At this juncture, it places very few restrictions on foreign business.

Extending NTR will bring an immediate result by stimulating investment and urban job creation in Laos. On a wider scale, it will support the administration’s Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative, a laddered plan to create free trade agreements with Southeast Asian nations, by enabling Laos to step onto the first rung.

And it will give Laos, landlocked and positioned among three regional economic powers — China, Vietnam and Thailand — a more diverse trade portfolio, decreasing dependency on any one neighbor. Laos needs all of the choices it can get.

The reflexive position of Congress toward Laos for the last several decades has been one of neglect. Some older generation groups of Laotian-Americans who immigrated at the end of the Vietnam War oppose NTR, and they have been a significant force. Younger generation Laotian Americans are more inclined to support NTR and, because of their age, to view Laos in the present tense. If NTR is granted, they will likely invest in Laos and provide much-needed technical expertise.

The Vietnam War taught Americans that war can be long, but healing can be longer. Twenty-eight years later, we still have one step left to take. Healing with Laos is long overdue.

Catharin Dalpino, a former deputy U.S. secretary of state, is a fellow at the Brookings Institution. Edward Gresser is director of the Project on Trade and Global Markets at the Progressive Policy Institute.

ARTICLE BY PROFESSOR GRANT EVANS


GRANT EVANS

GENERAL NEWS – Tuesday 08 July 2003

ANALYSIS / IN SEARCH OF BALANCE

Laos is getting a bad rap from the world’s media

Laos is a secretive country. That makes reporting on events inside the communist state very difficult. And so reporters make errors of judgment. Such as on events involving the Hmong ethnic minority.   GRANT EVANS

Laos has been described in recent weeks as a “rogue state”, as a “Taliban regime” in a U.S. senate inquiry, as a state engaged in “ethnic cleansing” against its Hmong minority, and, not surprisingly, it is also alleged by some lobby groups in the United States to be using outlawed chemical weapons against the Hmong _ in another instance of the ever-illusive “weapons of mass destruction”.

Such allegations no doubt appeal to simple-minded senators from Texas. But this disturbing proliferation of White House-inspired “newspeak” is now applied to Laos even by usually level-headed journalists.

All of the above allegations are untrue.

Many of the reports on the Hmong inside Laos suggest that the government is engaged in an ethnically inspired campaign of discrimination against them. In fact, the Lao constitution and laws are more tolerant towards minorities than many of its neighbours. More tolerant than Thailand, for example, which does not recognize many minorities as Thai citizens, whereas in Laos minority residents are considered Lao citizens. Laos may have a “minority problem”, but it is not because of official discrimination.

One finds Hmong people inside Laos at all levels of government, either as officials in ministries or practicing as medical doctors or as teachers in the schools or the university. One finds Hmong active as commercial traders in the countryside in the north and in the northern towns, many of them assisted in this activity by significant remittances received from their relatives overseas. Indeed, I think one could reasonably argue that, among the minorities, the Hmong are among those who are best educated and most prosperous.

Of course, there are also many Hmong living in remote villages where the standard of living is low by modern standards, but in this respect they are little different from other minorities in the countryside, and indeed poor ethnic Lao farmers. Both the government and international donors are committed to trying to alleviate the poverty of all Lao regardless of ethnicity.

The fighting going on in the special region of Muang Saysomboune, Vientiane province, which was reported on by Andrew Perrin in his already legendary Time magazine article of May 5, as far as we know intensified two years ago. The Hmong here are the descendants of what was an irregular force under the command of General Vang Pao before 1975. I say descendants advisedly, because most of these Hmong, like half the population of Laos today, have been born since 1975 and could not possibly have been part of a so-called CIA “secret army”. Therefore, the question is: Why has the conflict with this small group of Hmong continued? For this we need just a little history.

The forces commanded by the Royal Lao Army general, Vang Pao, were made up of regular and irregular soldiers, the latter being financed mostly by the CIA. These irregular soldiers were perhaps 60% Hmong, with other minorities, plus some Lao making up the rest. Following the withdrawal of U.S. aid and the overthrow of the Royal Lao Government, this force also collapsed, and indeed split into two wings: one still loyal to Vang Pao, and another inspired by a millennial vision of a Hmong kingdom, the “Chao Fa”.

Fearing the repercussions of surrender, they fought on against the new communist government. In a massive campaign over 1977-78, the Lao army, assisted by some 50,000 Vietnamese troops, savagely crushed this resistance to the new regime. Since then it has never represented a serious threat.

Attempts to form a “Resistance” to the Lao government by overseas Lao after 1975 suffered the fate of most such exile groups, splintering into factions and becoming ineffective. Vang Pao in exile became the head of an ethnically-based faction in this “Resistance”, and has appeared to represent a real force inside Laos.

Hmong rebels have survived longest in Laos simply because of the remoteness of many of their villages and the rugged terrain, and some assistance from the outside, though this assistance is often exaggerated by both sides for their own propaganda purposes. The group of Hmong in Saysomboune, perhaps a few thousand, are all that is left of these rebels. Children have replaced their parents, sometimes to avenge the death of the latter.

As a so-called “insurgency”, these Hmong have been more or less inactive for many years. And although suspicious of government intentions towards them, there have been attempts to put out feelers to the government either for surrender or to make arrangements for them to leave the country to join relatives in America.

Around two years ago, however, the army started a campaign to bring this group to heel. The reasons for this would appear to be associated with a stepped up campaign by Vientiane to resettle down on the plains the various minorities (not just the Hmong) living up in the mountains. This has been a long-standing policy of the government, which it carried out with a heavy hand after 1975, but in the 1990s it has been under the surveillance of the aid community in Laos, which has limited, but not stopped, abuses of power.

The results of this resettlement policy are extremely mixed. But in some cases like Saysomboune it has occurred without outside surveillance and under the control of the army, which has led to heavy handed tactics and an apparently vicious round of attacks and counter-attacks reminiscent of Palestine. It should be taken out of the hands of the army, and a negotiated solution sought.

Combined with this, throughout the north over this year heavy handed suppression of opium cultivation will no doubt be a cause for discontent among Hmong. After all, opium is an important cash crop for them, and with no substitute they will become poorer.

But it must be observed that the Lao government has been pushed to do this by the “international community”, in particular the United States, whose approach to the policing of drug suppression leaves much to be desired. Maybe the Lao government’s motivation is to avoid even further hysterical appellations like “narco-state”.

The recently arrested and imprisoned freelance journalists, and their Hmong guide, a pastor from the United States, appear to have been attempting to further document what Time’s Mr Perrin had already documented. There is little evidence so far that they, like most other journalists, are much interested in the situation of most Hmong in Laos.

But Lao government policy, which restricts access to information about what is happening in the country, is the prime cause of such sensationalist attempts to document the so-called “insurgency”. Indeed, as we know, in the absence of hard information, rumour and speculation rush to fill the gap in our understanding, and all sorts of stories can seem to be credible, whether they are about “weapons of mass destruction”, or whatever.

But the quality of reporting on Laos has also sunk to an all-time low. Besides Mr. Perrin’s piece, which reported on something unique, I cannot recall when I last read an informative article by a journalist on Laos. Beat up stories written from afar are the usual fare.

Of course, journalists cannot be expected to be experts on all countries and situations, which is why they ring up academics like me who are considered experts in their field. But then I find myself quoted by people I have never spoken with, and misquoted. Naturally, I begin to ask myself “why bother talking to journalists who are too lazy to do background reading and are simply in search of a `sexy’ quote?”.

There is much which needs reform in Laos, not least its judicial system. And it needs a free press. But when the “free press” outside is so cavalier in the way it reports Laos, then it sets a poor example for Laos, and sets back the cause of an open society here.

- Grant Evans is reader in anthropology, Centre for Anthropological Research, Sociology Department, University of Hong Kong. Mr. Evans’ latest book on Laos is: A Short History of Laos: the land in between (2002).

© Copyright The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 2003

LETTER FROM LAO NTR SUPPORTERS TO U.S. CONGRESS

Letter from Lao NTR Supporters to U.S. Congress

14 November 2003

Ways and Means Committee

Dear Representative______,

We write to you as current or former staff of organizations working in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic or neighboring countries; as academic specialists on Laos and Southeast Asia; and as analysts of U.S. relations with Laos. Based on our professional knowledge and personal experience, we strongly support H.R. 3943, which would grant approval of Normal Trade Relations (NTR) status for Laos, and urge that the House Ways and Means Committee take action to expedite the passage of the bill as soon as possible.

Laos is one of the world’s poorest countries, ranking 143rd out of 173 countries based on the United Nations Human Development Indicators. Half the population lives below the government’s own defined poverty line. Laos has the lowest life expectancy in Southeast Asia, and the highest adult illiteracy rate in the region, particularly among women.

The economic isolation which results from withholding NTR from Laos makes finding solutions to these problems all the more difficult. Laos is the only country with which the U.S. has normal full diplomatic ties but not normal trade relations and thus faces the highest tariffs in the world. In the absence of NTR, typical American tariffs on Laotian goods average 45%, and rise as high as 90% on some products. By contrast, for the great majority of America’s 223 trading partners, tariffs average 2.4%.

We believe that granting NTR to Laos could have a significant effect on the Laotian economy. For comparison, since trade was normalized in 1996, Cambodian exports to the U.S. have jumped to a billion dollars worth of clothes, which in turn has created 200,000 urban jobs. This has enabled Cambodia to become one of the first “least developed countries” to enter the World Trade Organization. In Vietnam, trade with the U.S. more than doubled in the first year after NTR was granted and we are now Vietnam’s largest export market.

In view of the strides made toward trade normalization with these two countries, there is no justification for allowing economic relations with Laos to remain a vestige of the Vietnam war. The Bush administration has praised Laos for its bilateral cooperation in recent years, in areas such as narcotics interdiction and counter-terrorism, as well as with the search for the remains of American military missing in action. Ironically, Laos is the only country in Indochina with which the U.S. never broke diplomatic relations yet it still suffers unjustified economic sanctions.

We know from our work with the Lao people that they are eager to develop their skills and their economy. In the coming year, Laos will assume the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for the first time, and is working to meet the challenge of its increasing participation in the region and the international community. At the same time, Laotians are anxious to preserve traditional arts and skills that define their culture, and that maintain ethnic diversity. Granting NTR to Laos will enable handicraft cooperatives to market their products and thus to act as the everyday guardians of Laotian culture.

We urge you and the Ways and Means Committee to support Normal Trade Relations for Laos and to help move this process forward as quickly as possible.

Sincerely,

*         Souvanh Philavong, farmer, Anchorage, AK

*         Vee Vongphrachanh, L.A.E.I., Anchorage, AK

*         Jane Gilbert Mauldon, Associate Professor, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, CA

*         Touxia Thaoxaochay, Former Mayor of Mouangphone, Laos, Clovis, CA

*         Christina Schwenkel, PhD Candidate, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA

*         Lao-Thai Vang, President/CEO, Irvine, CA

*         Mary Kay Crouch, Professor, California State University, Fullerton, Fullerton, CA

*         Stan (Phomma) Kansaath, Lao Refugee Community Service Representative, Fresno, CA

*         Peter Phakonekham, airline employee, Fresno, CA

*         Gary, Fresno Police Department, Fresno, CA

*         Jeremy W. Potash, President,  Potash & Co., Alameda, CA

*         Joe Eno, Martinez, CA

*         Maly Jong, Deputy Probation Officer, San Pablo, CA

*         Bousa Stracey Tatpaporn, President/CEO. US-Lao Trading Company, San Pablo, CA

*         Kanong Tatpaporn, Owner/manager, Thai Lanna Restaurant, Martinez, CA

*         Sary Tatpaporn, Coordinator, Laotian-American National Coalition, San Pablo, CA

*         Khamphanae , Xaymountry, Student, Van Nuys, CA

*         Stephen Nichols, Former Board Member and Chair of Executive Committee, International Voluntary Services Inc, Palm Springs, CA

*         Fredy Champagne, President, , Veterans for Peace Chapter 22, Garberville, CA

*         Susan M. Sulc, Import/Export Consultant, Sabadee, Napa, CA

*         Soulivanh  Khamvongsay, Chairman, Lao-American Exchange Institute,  CT

*         Samone Bouaphaphone, Member, Lao-American Exchange Institute,  CT

*         Ken Chanthamala, Member, Lao-American Exchange Institute, CT

*         Sisawath Chanthinith, Member, Lao-American Exchange Institute, CT

*         Somekith , Chantrirack, President, Lao-American Exchange Institute, CT

*         Bob Soondara, Member, Lao-American Exchange Institute, CT

*         Olot Souvannavong, Member, Lao-American Exchange Institute, CT

*         Sysouphan, Syharat, Member, Lao-American Exchange Institute, CT

*         Somephong, Member, Lao-American Exchange Institute, CT

*         Kanne, Member, Lao-American Exchange Institute, CT

*         Pamela  McElwee, Lecturer, Yale School of Forestry, New Haven,, CT

*         Sally Benson, Board Member, CHEER Foundation, Washington, DC

*         C. Chanthasiri, Graduate Student, Washington, DC

*         H. Leedom Lefferts Jr., Professor, Anthropology, Drew University, Washington, DC

*         Fancy Sinantha, Program Coordinator, Migration Policy Institute, Washington, DC

*         Catharin Dalpino, Adjunct Professor Georgetown University, Washington, DC

*         Edward Gresser, ‘Trade and Global Markets Project Director’, Progressive Policy Institute, Washington, DC

*         Clare McDermott, student, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

*         Timothy McDermott, student, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

*         Peter Maokhamphiou,  Lao American, Lakeland, FL

*         Boun Phimvilayphone, Design Engineer, ETI HYTRONICS CORP., St Petersburg, FL

*         Thao Khamoui, Program, Director, US Department of Agriculture, Honolulu, HI

*         Nara S. Sihavong, President & C.E.O., Mekong Trading Company USA LLC dba Lao Coffee Company, Ewa Beach, HI

*         Bee C. Philaphandeth, Director of Supply chain, KP group Inc., Aiea, Hi

*         Puongpun, Sananikone, President,  PacMar, Inc., Honolulu, HI

*         Deth Soulatha, Site Manager,  Pacific Gateway Center, Kailua , HI

*         Puongpun Sananikone, President &CEO, Pacific Management Resources (PacMar Inc.), Honolulu, HI

*         Allen Riedy, Head, Asia Collection, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, , HI

*         Touk Praseuthsy, Research Analyst, Ariel Capital Management Inc., Chicago, IL

*         Sadachanh (aka Spy or Dha) Sinantha, Carrier Agreements Negotiator, MCI, Chicago, IL

*         Erik Davis, Graduate Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL

*         James Hafner, Professor/Director Asian Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA

*         Sourattana Dang, Student, Brooklyn, MD

*         Linda Yarr, Executive Director, Program for International Students in Asia, George Washington University, Bethesda, MD

*         Charles H. Twining, Former U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, former Director for Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam at the Department of State in Washington, Bethesda, MD

*         Souphala Chomsisengphet, economist, Chevy Chase, MD

*         Sarah Whitney Womack, lecturer, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

*         Lue Lee, Public Access Coordinator, Comcast, Lansing, MI

*         Chao Lee, Engineer, Grand Rapids, MI

*         Vongsavanh Boutsavath,  Individual-Laotian American, St. Paul, MN

*         Viraphet Xaphakdy, Nurse,  , St. Paul, MN

*         Dr. Yang Dao, Faculty member, University of Minnesota, Brooklyn Park, MN

*         Wayne Sakeo, President, Services 2000, Inc, St Paul, MN

*         Soukkaseum Xaphakdy,  Laotian-American individual, St. Paul, MN

*         Adisack Nhouyvanisvong, Psychometrician, Pearson VUE, Minnetonka, MN

*         Khamma Phimmasone, Treasurer, Indochina Children Organization, Bloomington, MN

*         Narin Sihavong, Vice President , Lao Coffee Company, Brooklyn Park, MN

*         Oudom Thipavong, Founder and Chairman, Indochina Children Organization, Bloomington, MN

*         Florence Austria, Registered Nurse,  Eagan, MN

*         Kai Chan, Member of UA oragnization of MN,  Burnsville , MN

*         Khamsouk Chanthavixay, Financial Analyst, Cottage Grove, MN

*         Sompasong Chanthavong, Office manager/Gift shop owner, parents own a handicraft business in Laos, Burnsville , MN

*         Chanthasak Chounlamountry, Lao-American Individual, Shakopee, MN

*         Somano Dy, individual, Eagan, MN

*         Ali ya Khammanivong, Asst. Scientist, University of Minnesota, Burnsville , MN

*         Phimpha Khamthongha, United Laotian American, Burnsville , MN

*         Nar Phachant, individual Laotian-American, Eagan, MN

*         Saysana Pommalath, Network / Programmer, Cottage Grove, MN

*         Setha, Pommalath, Domestic Engineer, Cottage Grove, MN

*         Amanda Samountry, Student, Farmington, MN

*         Yvone  Sengmany, individual Laotian American, Cottage Grove, MN

*         Panasouk Vorarath, Analytical chemist, 3M Corp., Cottage Grove, MN

*         Somsanouk Sam Vorarath, Software Engineer, Grove Height, MN

*         Patrick Xaphakdy,  Individual, Cottage Grove, MN

*         Christopher Xaphakdy, Academic adviser, College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities Campus, Cottage Grove, MN

*         Maniseng Xaphakdy, Individual,  Cottage Grove, MN

*         Sean Xayaphet, Sec. of Treasuror of ULA,  Shakopee, MN

*         Dauvone Fongthavisay, Manager, LACO, Andover, MN

*         Khamphout Boriboun, Lao-American Community of MN, Brooklyn Center, MN

*         Feng Boualouang, Lao-American Community of MN, North Minneapolis, MN

*         Maria Soudaly, Lao-American Community of MN, Columbia Heights, MN

*         Bounthong Vilaychack, Lao-American Community of MN, Brooklyn Park, MN

*         Phoy Xaythavip, Lao-American Community of MN, Brooklyn Park, MN

*         Laxa Yabandith, United Laotian Americans(ULA), Minneapolis, MN

*         Sonelay Boualouang, Owner Lao Silk Company, Brooklyn Park, MN

*         Khamsa Boualouang, Mother, Grandmother, Minneapolis, MN

*         Larry Alan Corbin Jr., Business Manager, Brooklyn Park, MN

*         Steve  Sherlock, President, Aid to Southeast Asia, Minneapolis, MN

*         Bruce Shoemaker, researcher/consultant, self employed, Minneapolis, MN

*         Anousone Fongthavisay, student, University of MN – Duluth, Andover, MN

*         Lee Phannavong, system operator, Xerox Tech., Bloomington, MN

*         Roger Rumpf, International Consultant,  Warrensburg, MO

*         Evan Winokur, Student, James Madison University, Turnerville, NJ

*         Theodore Parnall, Professor of Lao Emeritus, Univeristy of New Mexico School of Law, NE Albuquerque, NM

*         Soukhy Thongkieng, Owner/Jeweler, CANADAIGUA Jewelers, Canadaigua , NY

*         John McAuliff, Executive Director, Fund for Reconciliation and Development, New York, NY

*         Susan Hammond, Deputy Director, Fund for Reconciliation and Development, New York, NY

*         Tony Lee, Chemist/Entrepreneur,  Illumination Technologies, Inc., Syracuse, NY

*         Langsanh Chanthavisouk, CAD Designer, ANCOMA Inc (Mechanical Contractors), Rochester , NY

*         Thip Chinthalasy, MR624 -Tactical & Comsac, RF Communication, Harris Corporation, Rochester , NY

*         Tara McAuliff, Humanitarian Worker,  , Brooklyn, NY

*         Jennifer Foley, Doctoral Candidate, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

*         Bounlonh J. Soukamneuth, Ph.D. Student, , Cornell University, Ithica, NY

*         Khampha Thephavong, Member,  Lao-American Advancement Center, Cleveland, OH

*         Richard Reece, Director, Village Focus International, Lao PDR, Portland, OR

*         SengFo Chao, Founding member and Advisory Board member, Iu Mien American National Coalition, Inc, Gresham, OR

*         David Elder, Regional Director for Asia, American Friends Service Committee, Philadelphia, PA

*         Caroline Wischmann, President, International Craft Consultants, Inc, Philadelphia, PA

*         John Ferchek, Country Director, Quaker Service Lao PDR, Quakertown, PA

*         Jonathan T. McGrain, Individual, Student of colonial and post-colonial political and diplomatic history; , Richboro, PA

*         Stacy Spivak, SE Asia Buyer, Ten Thousand Villages, Akron, PA

*         Rev. Kenneth G. Swick, President, Lao Cooperation Society, Lutheran Minister, York Springs, PA

*         Bruce M.  Lockhart, Assistant Prof., History Dept., National University of Singapore, Carlisle, PA

*         Sumit Agarwal, Financial Economist, East Greenwich, RI

*         Lindsay French, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI

*         Phetpaseuth Ratsapho, SENIOR ACCOUNTANT, DAMIANO & BURK, CPA. PC, Lincoln, RI

*         Donnie Sirichanto, design specialist/,  TDOT, Antioch, TN

*         Noy Seunsom, Research Engineer, Shell Global Solutions (US) Inc, Houston, TX

*         Arnold Schecter, Professor, University of Texas School of Public Health, Dallas, TX

*         Khambay Chanthavixay, Tailor, Roanoke, VA

*         Khantahn Chanthavixay, Manager, Roanoke, VA

*         Khane Chanthavixay, Tailor, Roanoke, VA

*         Bouaphanh Chanthavixay, Retired, Roanoke, VA

*         Soukhan Chanthavixay, Laborer, Roanoke, VA

*         Elizabeth Hamner, Richmond, VA

*         Malia Hall, Student, James Madison University, Leesburg, VA

*         Claire Dang, Teacher of Accounting, GU Business Training Program for Virtnam, Laos and Cambodia, McLean, VA

*         Long B. Pho, Vietnam Foundation, Secretary General, Teacher in Business Admin at National School for Public Admin. former Director, Georgetown University Business Training Program for Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, McLean, VA

*         Gail Vong, Schwab, Sterling, VA

*         John  Phouminh, Electrical Engineer, Potomac Electric Power Company at Washington, DC, Springfield, VA

*         Nhutrang H. Pho, Account Representative, Falls Church, VA

*         Chomphet Sengthongkham, Administrator, Springfield, VA

*         Pete Xayavong, Engineering,  Falls Church, VA

*         Robert W. Resseguie, Project Manager, USAID PSC contractor, Dulles, VA

*         Vilay Soulatha, Annandale, VA

*         Champa Soulatha, Marketing Coordinator,  Annandale, VA

*         Boupha Soulatha, Student, Annandale, VA

*         Jen Derstine, Staff/Research Assistant, Falls Church, VA

*         Si Phounsavath, Administrator, Galaxy Scientific Corp, Woodbridge, VA

*         Hoa Diep, Student, Alexandria, VA

*         Khambay Phounsavath, Contracts, Woodbridge, VA

*         Souksomboun  Sayasithsena, Member of the Board of Trustees, Wat Lao Buddhavong, Annandale, VA

*         James Ketevong, Student, Shenandoah University, Alexandria , VA

*         Brantly Womack, Professor of Foreign Affairs, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VN

*         Lomsavay Phouthavongxay, Software engineer, Pamar Systems, inc, Vancouver, WA

*         Ya Myyoufu Yang, County Supervisor, City Council, Wassau, WI

*         Deuane Khamvongsa, Individual, Greenbay, WI

*         Molly Fifer, graduate student, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ

*         Nou Soulamany, IT/Loan Officer, VA

*         Hatsachan Chayananh, student,

*         Sue Ebron, AP Analyst,

*         Kristina Hagen, accountant,

*         Penh Van  Lo, L&L Tax Services,

*         Justin McDaniel, Doctor, Assistant Professor,

*         Kham Sanavongsay, Assistant Technical Designer,  Sears, Roebuck and Co.,

*         Anousak Souphavanh, Project Manager/System Engineer,

*         Phoneviseth Vongkhanty, Civil Engineering Student, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia., Victoria 3124, Australia

*         Douangchanh Xaymounvong, medical doctor,  NSW 2300, Australia

*         Chea Muoy Kry, Representative, WPM (Women Peacemakers), Phnom Penh, Cambodia

*         Nurina Widagdo, Regional Director, East Asia Regional Office, Oxfam America, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

*         Alicia Turner, PhD Student, University of Chicago, Ottawa , Canada

*         Somphone Samonekeo, Comptable Lao Accounting, Montreal, Canada

*         Arlyne Johnson, Country Program Director, World Conservation Society, Vientiane, Lao PDR, (US Citizen)

*         Nanong Khotpathoum , Executive Director, EARTH SYSTEMS LAO, Environmental Research & Consulting, , Vientiane, Lao PDR

*         Anne Maltais, Assistant Country Director, Concern Worldwide, Vientiane, Lao PDR

*         Rassanikone Nanong, Managing Director NIKONE HANDCRAFT, Vice President of Lao Handicraft Group, Board Directors Members of ATA US ( Aid To Artisans), Vientiane, Lao PDR

*         Vonesavanh Noraseng,  Local Small businessman, Vientiane, Lao PDR

*         John Raintree, Research Advisor, National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute, Laos, Vientiane, Lao PDR

*         Vichit Sadettan, Sales Manager, Lao Freight Forwarder Co., Ltd., Vientiane, Lao PDR

*         Thanousone, Managing Director, PlaNet Online Laos, Vientiane, Lao PDR

*         Stuart Ling, Program Coordinator, Vredeseilanden-Coopibo, Houesay, Bokeo, Lao PDR

*         Bran van Grootheest, Team Leader,  Reformed World Relief Committee of North America, Vientiane, Lao PDR

*         Bong Munsayaphom, Program Coordinator, Oxfam Solidarity Beligium, Vientiane, Lao PDR

*         Darouny Rattanavong, Managing Director, Vientiane International Consultants, Inc, Vientiane, Lao PDR

*         Charles Alton, Senior Research Advisor, UNDP, Vientiane, Lao PDR (US Citizen)

*         Kristen Baynham, Handicraft designer, MCC, Laos and Ten Thousand Villages, Vientiane, Lao PDR

*         Arthur Crisfield, education advisor, Consortium in the  Lao PDR, Vientiane, Lao PDR (US Citizen)

*         William Tuffin, Marketing Director, The Boat Landing Guest house, Luang Namtha, Lao PDR, (US Citizen)

*         Andrew Wells-Dang, Regional Director, Fund for Reconciliation and Development, Hanoi, Vietnam, (US Citizen)

*         Dr Ed Klein,  regional Representative, Oxfam Belgique, Hanoi, Vietnam

*         Tran Thanh Huyen, Project Coordinator, Support for Women Economic Development Project, Oxfam Quebec, Hanoi, Vietnam

*         Phuongmachan,  student, Hanoi, Vietnam

*         Affiliations for identification purposes only

cc:    Charles Grassley, Chair, Senate Finance Committee
Richard Lugar, Chair, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Henry Hyde, Chair, House Committee on International Relations
James Leach, Chair, House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, International
Relations Committee
Samuel Brownback, Chair, Senate Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, Foreign
Relations Committee
The Honorable Colin Powell, Secretary of State
The Honorable Robert Zoellick, U.S. Trade Representative

For further information contact:

Susan Hammond, Deputy Director, Fund for Reconciliation and Development,

355 West 39th Street, NY, NY 10018. Tel: 212-760-9903 Fax: 212-760-9906

Email: shammond@ffrd.org


U.S.-Lao Relations in 2004 – The Course Ahead
January 26, 2004
Vientiane, Laos
Ambassador Douglas A. Hartwick


Press Release
Public Affairs Office
Embassy of the United States of America
Rue Bartholonie, P.O. Box. 114
Vientiane, Laos.
Tel:  (856-21) 213 966
Fax: (856-21) 213 045
Website: http://usembassy.state.gov/laos/wwwhamsp.html


U.S.-Lao Relations in 2004 – The Course Ahead
January 26, 2004
Vientiane, Laos
Ambassador Douglas A. Hartwick

Introduction

This morning I would like share my views on steps that should guide our two governments in the year ahead if we are to strengthen our relations, improve conditions for our citizens, and bring our two peoples closer together.

I am pleased to deliver these public remarks here in Vientiane.  I found that last year, in January 2003, as I visited various communities in the United States in Washington D.C., California and Washington State, there was real benefit to laying out publicly and clearly the goals and steps necessary from my country’s standpoint that would strengthen bilateral relations in the year ahead.  As the senior representative of my government, I wish to make clear to everyone, the Lao government, the Lao people, and the American people how I see the challenges that face us this year, and what we need to work on.  I look forward to your reactions and comments, and will be happy to answer questions at the end of my remarks.

With the year 2004 ahead of us, let me assess the current state of Lao -U.S. relations.   Looking back, the year 2003 saw key developments in our bilateral relationship, developments that helped strengthen our ties and offer promise for even greater progress in the New Year.  It also experienced disappointments or saw areas with insufficient movement.  Looking forward, the year 2004 could be a landmark year for the relationship as we address bilateral problems whose roots extend back to the legacies of the Indochina war, and create together real opportunities that will benefit our two peoples.  Yet the course in 2004 will depend very much on the combined efforts and political will of both countries. As with most significant accomplishments, strengthening relations will require real dialogue, change, and taking risks if we are to bring our two nations closer together.

The United States and Lao PDR have shared a close association since the 1950s.  The United States was among the very first to recognize Lao independence in 1954.  As the Indochina War ran its course in the mid-1970s, bilateral relations suffered considerably, but were never broken.  In the wake of that war, the U.S. soon became home to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Laos, binding our two countries forever together for better or worse.   Many on both sides suffered terribly from the war, and some are still caught in its terrible grip.

But the war is over.  In 2004, more Lao people alive today were born after the war than before it and many have no personal memory of that difficult time.  Most long for a future of opportunity, happiness and peace.  In America, former Laotian refugees and families, nearly 500 thousand strong, have become proud American citizens or permanent residents, and their children a powerful mix of two cultures.  Yet many look to reconnect with Laos, a land still attached to their hearts, and share their success with less fortunate relatives and former countrymen and women. Significant bilateral issues exist, to be sure, but overcoming many of these is within our two countries’ grasp.

Assessing 2003: Progress through Improved Dialogue and Determination

The year 2003 was a milestone year in many ways. Let me review positive highlights, and disappointments from America’s perspective.   On POW/MIA cooperation, our two governments achieved remarkable progress together, conducting 5 successful joint field activities, totaling roughly 150 days and hundreds of thousands of man hours to recover some 13 sets of probable American remains and gathering promising leads on others.  This success would not be possible were it not for the humanitarian spirit of the Lao people, who suffered much during the war themselves, and the cooperation of the Lao government.  The families of Americans missing in action deeply appreciate this humanitarian spirit; my government is grateful for the cooperation.

The American people reached out to help the Lao people in various ways.  We continued to fund removal of unexploded ordinance, a dangerous legacy from the Indochina war. The U.S. is supporting projects to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and to combat human trafficking, a particularly vexing problem as desperate young women and men seek elusive, legitimate employment opportunities in neighboring countries. We have continued funding a project to teach and expand silk production in many of Laos’ poorest villages in the north, among them Hmong, Tai Daeng and Tai Dam communities.

On narcotics cooperation, America has become Laos’ strategic partner in the fight against narcotics.  Our two governments worked hard in 2003 to ensure that ethnic minorities who have given up opium production in keeping with the government’s goal of eliminating opium by 2005, have viable alternatives with which to supplement their incomes. Our cooperation is achieving real success.  Opium cultivation is dropping dramatically but firmly establishing alternatives will take determination.  Our Lao-American Project is helping Hmong, Khmu, Mien, Akha and other ethnic groups receive first time public services and gain access to markets once too distant to contemplate.  We launched a new project in northern Luang Prabang province in 2003 and have continued to help the Lao government build narcotics treatment and law enforcement capacity to reduce narcotics’ damaging impact.

On terrorism and international cooperation, Laos deepened cooperation with the U.S..  In 2003, our two governments worked together on training to combat terrorism– strengthening customs and law enforcement, enabling the financial sector to monitor financial transactions, and helping Laos accede to international conventions.  In 2003, Laos was itself the target of terrorist incidents.   As a result, Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote to express American sadness and sympathy to his counterpart Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad at the loss of innocent lives and expressed the desire to work together to end such cowardly attacks wherever these occur.  Elsewhere, the United States and Laos signed an agreement to ensure that our respective citizens are subject to international criminal jurisdiction consistent with our own national laws and international commitments, an important Bush Administration objective.

In 2003, our two governments took important steps toward legislation to establish normal trade relations (NTR) between the U.S. and Laos, another Bush Administration objective. In April, the Lao government sent its minister of commerce and associates to the U.S. to meet with U.S. government and congressional community leaders about NTR. In September, our two governments signed a bilateral trade agreement, one of our most significant bilateral agreements since 1975 to enter into effect with passage of legislation granting NTR status to Laos. Finally, in September, legislation was introduced in the U.S. Congress to seek NTR status for Laos. The bill is now before Congress.

More than a generation after the Indochina War, Laos still does not enjoy normal trade relations with the United States despite unbroken diplomatic relations.  As a result, citizens of both countries are still denied the opportunity to trade and invest without punitive government-imposed barriers.  Without NTR, American entrepreneurs, many of them Lao-Americans, face uncertain Lao market entry and high trade barriers to goods and services they wish to provide.  Without NTR, Laos lack jobs and economic opportunity that obliges many poor Lao young women and men to venture beyond their borders for work, with some falling into the hands of unscrupulous traffickers.

Now let me turn to areas of bilateral concern where progress has been more elusive.   On human rights, an important issue to all Americans, our bilateral interaction in 2003 has produced successes in some areas, but little progress or disappointment in others.  In the area of religious freedom, Laos saw overall improvement in the past year – an improvement that the State Department highlighted in December at the release of the International Religious Freedom Report. Areas that were once intolerant of Christians, and sometimes arrested those Christians and closed their churches, are now allowing Christians and others freedom to worship in their own churches without interference form the government.  Savannakhet province, where intolerance has persisted for years, saw some encouraging steps that have improved the atmosphere – detainees were released, churches reopened, long-seized property returned.  Laotians are freer to practice the religion of their choice than they were a year ago, although local detention and then release of 11 Christians in Attapeu just last month reminds me that much work remains.  We will continue to encourage the Lao Government to strengthen the legal protections for religious belief and practice.  Decree 92 was a step in the right direction, but we will work for improvements in its provisions.

One area of great concern among many Americans is Laos’ treatment of its minorities, and in particular, the Hmong. With some 200 thousand ethnic Hmong in the United States today, this concern is understandable.  With some justification, the Lao government maintains that its minorities are treated better today than at any time in Laos’ history. But remnants of former Hmong insurgent groups who once fought on the side of the Royal Lao Government some 27 years ago, still hide deep in the Lao forest, afraid or unwilling to come out.  The Lao leadership is unwilling to acknowledge publicly that these groups exist, nor to explain in detail to the international community the amnesty policy Laos has had in place for years to encourage peaceful resettlement.  Much more needs to be done. Only improved cooperation and dialogue among the Lao authorities, the forest people leaders, and those outside of Lao borders who encourage this standoff can resolve this tragic situation that continues to claim innocent lives and fuel bilateral tensions.  My government and the international community stand ready to assist in resolving this complicated issue if requested by the concerned parties.

Americans are disappointed in the lack of progress on political reform in Laos today.  As we continue to document in our annual Human Rights report, Laos has taken little or no action to address international concerns about political prisoners, many of whom have been incarcerated for well over a decade.  Certainly such persons do not represent a threat to the political stability of the Lao government.  Elsewhere, some Americans have sought Lao government assistance in providing information about relatives gone missing, possibly at the hands of local authorities. In early 2004, I remain hopeful that the Lao government will be responsive to these humanitarian requests.

Freedom of expression also remains restricted in Laos.  No country can prosper without the free flow of information and debate through press and media outlets.  Finally, conditions in Lao prisons remain inhumanely primitive, according to recent first hand accounts of persons who have experienced them.  This is not consistent with the government’s own self-described image of being humane and caring.  Improving such conditions is well within the capability of the Lao government, and there is ready apolitical international assistance to do so.  I urge the Lao leadership to give this full consideration.

Looking to 2004: Charting the Course Ahead

When I assumed my position as the American ambassador to Laos in September 2001, my overarching bilateral mission, in a phrase, was to “build a new future, while accounting for the past.”  We have made genuine progress in both dimensions, but this ambitious mission remains as valid today as in 2001.  The year 2004 can provide even greater momentum toward this important goal.

Building stronger U.S.-Lao relations in 2004 will require genuine progress in three main areas:  addressing long-standing human rights concerns, establishing normal trade relations between our two countries, and working more closely together on common threats and concerns—bilateral and international—where our two countries’ compelling interests are clear and pressing.  Let me address each one briefly.

America’s long standing interest in seeing greater progress in the area of human rights in Laos stems directly from the fact that hundreds of thousands of American citizens have friends and relatives in Laos and are convinced that the Lao government can and should do more to help its citizens enjoy greater political and economic freedoms and opportunities on a par with more open societies.  Additionally, respect for universal human rights standards is a fundamental principle of international law, and is vital for Laos’ continued integration into the international community.

The most pressing of these concerns remains finding a humanitarian solution to the tragic problem of the people still hiding today in Laos’ remote jungles.  The Lao government insists that it, too, is eager to find a lasting solution and assures me it has already resettled hundreds of families. But Laos must take more credible steps in 2004 to assure concerned Americans and the international community that it is serious about solving this problem in a humanitarian manner.  The Lao government needs to accelerate significantly its efforts to convince those still at large to lay down their arms, join those already resettled and make the transition to become law-abiding Lao citizens.  The international community will help.  Hmong-American groups should do their part by urging the leaders of the forest people to embrace a new resettled life, once the Lao government has made clear to all their safety is guaranteed. Without steady progress toward a peaceful resolution, this problem will continue take innocent Laotian lives, generate international criticism of Laos, and hinder the advancement of our bilateral relationship.

As I stated earlier, there has been genuine progress toward religious freedom in Laos this past year.  The Lao government deserves credit for this progress.  The year 2004 will hopefully see continued positive results from the Lao policy of tolerance, and I look forward to helping where possible with ideas and resources to sustain those results, including suggestions regarding improvements in Decree 92.  I urge the government to watch developments in Attapeu, as signs remain that religious persecution persists.  On prison conditions for detainees, I would hope that the Lao leadership might take the same constructive approach as it has toward religious freedom and ensure that detainees are treated in a fashion consistent with international standards—food, shelter, access to medical care, compassionate visits from relatives.  Again, the international community is prepared to assist with ideas and resources, if needed. Finally, I would hope that the Lao leadership can grant humanitarian consideration to its political detainees in 2004.

Establishing normal trade relations between the United States and Laos is a top bilateral priority for the United States for 2004.  This requires passage of legislation in Congress.  Continuing not to grant NTR status to one of the world’s poorest countries 30 years after the Indochina war, whatever our legitimate concerns about other problems that need urgent attention, has real human consequences. It condemns the Laotian people — Lao, Hmong, Khmu, Mien, and 40 plus other minorities — to improving their standard of living in an economy where the government still holds the cards.  They will have little chance to escape dependency on the international dole.   They will have even less opportunity to pursue individual dreams.  Thus, the Administration is eager to get NTR in place to begin to generate the benefits that it promises for both countries.

For the United States, NTR will facilitate American business entry into the Lao market, offer protections heretofore missing and speed Lao integration into the ASEAN regional economy, thus attracting more interest from U.S. businesses.  For Laos, NTR promises to stimulate private sector, people-focused benefits – jobs, entrepreneurship, international standards, and tech transfers – to a country that desperately needs market-based development.  NTR will also afford increased opportunities to strengthen good governance and the rule of law, and to reduce trafficking in persons – all priorities for America.  The Lao government can make its greatest contribution by creating an improved climate for passage if it makes progress toward addressing bilateral concerns I have described above which are shared by members of the U.S. Congress.  We must do all that we can to secure NTR this year.

Laos and the United States share common goals with regard to international threats to peace and security.   We oppose terrorism in all its forms.  We also believe that the United Nations has an important and legitimate role to play in fostering cooperation to advance international peace and security.  In 2004, we need to explore on an accelerated basis ways our two governments can strengthen a united front against terrorism in Southeast Asia, and deny harbor to terrorist fugitives.  Laos assumes the ASEAN presidency in July.  I hope that Laos will help ASEAN address regional problems, such as Burma—encouraging the SPDC to take concrete steps, including working with the democratic opposition, toward democracy and national reconciliation.

Finally, our two countries must continue to make progress in those areas where we already have established cooperation:  recovering remains of Americans still missing from the Indochina War, fighting narcotics, removal of unexploded ordnance, and supporting regional efforts to fight vestiges of poverty: trafficking in persons, the spread of HIV/AIDS, promoting sustainable development.  These areas do not grab headlines in international press, but are critically important and deserve the continued commitment of both our governments. Our two peoples deserve continued progress.

This is a broad and ambitious bilateral agenda.  As I have already stated, it will take political will and determination to achieve real progress.  But the rewards for our two countries and two peoples will be significant in the years ahead.

Thank you.

U.S.–Laos NTR Coalition Visits Laos


U.S.–Laos NTR Coalition Visits Laos
January 22, 2004

Ambassador Douglas A. Hartwick met Mr. Sary Tataporn and the U.S.A-Laos NTR Coalition, a group of 37 Lao-American business people visiting Laos, at the American Embassy on January 22, 2004.

The U.S.A – Laos NTR Coalition, which includes representatives from several Lao-American ethnicities, spent more than a week in Laos, examining the buiness climate and making its views known to Lao officials, including the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and Minister of Commerce, as well as a range of other high-level officials.

In their meetings, the Coalition expressed its view of how best to support passage of Normal Trade Relations by the American Congress. The Coalition noted that the Lao Government cannot assume that the American Congress will authorize Normal Trade Relations simply because the Bush Administration wants it. It therefore urged the Lao Government to do all that it can to make the case for NTR with the American Congress. The Coalition also noted that opponents of NTR are not necessarily the majority or the best-informed segments of Lao-American public opinion, but they have been the loudest, and that effort by the Lao government to work with Lao-American groups to address their concerns would be an important way to generate greater support for Normal Trade Relations.

Members of the U.S. – Laos NTR Coalition

Steering Committee:

  1. Fund for Reconciliation and Development  www.ffrd.org
  2. Mennonite Community Council of Washington DC  www.mcc.org\
  3. Laotian-American Chamber of Commerce www.laotianacc.org
  4. Newcomer Service of Washington DC www.newcomerservice.org
  5. Laotian Multi-Ethnic Alliance for U.S.A-Laos Relations (with over 2000 members across the U.S.)   http://waysandmeans.house.gov/hearings.asp?formmode=view&id=561
  6. US-ASEAN Business Council, Inc. (they presently serve as secretariat for the  U.S.-Thailand FTA Business Council)  www.us-asean.org
  7. Office of Congresswoman Betty McCollum http://www.house.gov/mccollum/index.htm
  8. Lao Advance Organization of America http://www.laopta.org/

Members-At-Large:


FACT SHEET ON LAOS


Fact Sheet on Laos

Updated February 2004

U.S.-Lao Relations

  • The U.S. has had diplomatic relations with the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) since its founding in 1975. These relations were not interrupted as in the cases of Vietnam and Cambodia. The current U.S. Ambassador, Douglas Hartwick, arrived in Vientiane in September 2001.
  • According to the State Department, international donors and NGOs, the Lao government is cooperating fully on the search for MIA remains from the Vietnam War and a campaign to eradicate narcotics production and trade in northern Laos. Since September 11, Laos has also aided the U.S. in counterterrorism efforts.
  • The U.S. currently funds approximately $10 million per year in MIA recovery, clearance of and education about unexploded ordnance (UXO), and counter-narcotics programs in Laos.  In FY 2002 and 2003 USAID provided $2 million to NGOs for HIV-AIDS and LEAPSS (Laos Economic Acceleration Program for the Silk Sector) projects. U.S. funding also supports programs to prevent trafficking of women and children from Laos to neighboring countries.

Trade

  • Laos is the only country in Southeast Asia without normal trade relations (NTR) with the U.S.. The only other countries in the world without NTR are Cuba and North Korea, both of which do not have normal diplomatic relations with the U.S.. (Afghanistan and Serbia/Montenegro recently received NTR, while Libya, Burma and Iran face U.S. trade sanctions but have never lost NTR status.) As a result, Lao exports to the U.S. face the highest average tariff rates in the world: 46.3% in 200, compared with a global average of 2.4%.
  • A U.S.-Lao bilateral trade agreement was initialed in 1997 and was signed by both countries in September 2003. It has not been ratified by Congress. On September 29, 2003, Rep. Betty McCollum (MN) introduced HR 3195 to extend Normal Trade Relations treatment to products of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. The bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, where it has not yet been voted on. Written testimony to the Committee submitted in March 2003 favored NTR by a ratio of three to one.
  • The Bush Administration supports normal trade relations with Laos. In a joint letter dated February 24, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell and United States Trade Representative Robert Zoellick wrote to the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee that  “The Administration seeks your support for extending normal trade relations (NTR) status to Laos and for bringing into force the comprehensive bilateral trade agreement that the United States concluded with Laos in 1997.”

Society and Development

  • The Lao PDR is a multiethnic state with a bare majority of ethnic Lao and more than 40 minority groups, the largest being Kam Mou (11%), Phou Thay (10%) and Hmong (7%). Although income and education gaps among regions and ethnic groups can be great, there is no legal discrimination against specific minority groups. Ethnic minorities are represented at all levels of government.
  • Approximately 500,000 people of Lao and Hmong descent live in the U.S. (compared with a total Lao population of 5 million). The Laotian-American community includes a range of diverse views on trade and engagement with Laos. More than 20,000 Laotian Americans travel to Laos for family visits and business each year and  can potentially play a major role in trade, development and reconciliation.
  • More than 80 international development organizations in Laos, including 14 American NGOs, are encouraged to work with all ethnic groups and have access to almost all parts of the country.

Security and Human Rights

  • The U.S. fought a secret war in Laos from 1964-1973, the extent of which is still relatively unknown. The legacy of the war includes “bombies” and other unexploded ordnance (UXO), as well as herbicides such as Agent Orange. These effects are concentrated in the poorest and most remote areas of the country, where remnants of the war still cause about 150 deaths and injuries each year.
  • In certain mountainous areas, small groups of Hmong guerrillas, estimated at around` 1,000, still hide in the forest. The Lao government offers amnesty to those who re-enter society; there is no policy of extermination. Most Hmong in Laos are not associated with these groups, some of whom receive illegal funding from overseas.
  • A series of terrorist attacks on public buses in 2003 killed 22 and injured more than 70. The exact identity of the attackers is uncertain. Secretary of State Powell and Ambassador Hartwick have condemned the attacks and offered U.S. cooperation to solve them. The Lao government, for its part, denies that an insurgency exists and blames the bus attacks on “bandits.”
  • Laos shows gradual progress in some areas of human rights. The 2003 State Department Religious Freedom Report cites Laos as one of only two countries where significant improvements have been noted in the past year. However, international human rights groups do not have access inside Laos. Where changes have occurred, they usually result from quiet diplomacy, not outside pressure.

This fact sheet is complied by the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, 355 W. 39th St., New York, NY 10018, and updated regularly on our website, www.ffrd.org.


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