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Australian Alumni Optimistic About AEC

There will be winners and losers from Laos joining the ASEAN Economic Community, the audience were told at a panel discussion last night in Vientiane. 

The occasion was the first Australian Embassy “Q&A” forum involving Australia-trained alumni from different professions, with the theme of “What Does AEC mean for Laos?”

Over 100 people attended the forum held at the Lao Plaza Hotel, which was moderated by Ambassador Mr John Williams.  Panel members, who were all Australian alumni, included government officials, economic researchers and business people. 

The panel of Mr Kiengkhammanh Khottavong, Mr Sitthiroth Rasphone, Mr Bounmy Sengphachan and Ms Thiphaphone Phetmany and Richard Taylor responded to questions from the audience and by video link from Lao students in Australia.  The Q&A format is based on a popular Australian television show of the same name.  Questions focused on public awareness of the AEC, the competitiveness of the Lao economy, the impact on different businesses and sectors, as well as education and human resource development.

Overall, the panel agreed that the AEC presents considerable opportunities for Lao industries and businesses, provided they have the right skills and the capital to invest. 

Panel member and local businesswoman Thippaphone said “I am quite optimistic about AEC. I want to see changes no matter how big or small. In 15-20 years, our children might work in other countries with more dynamic economic environment. I am so excited about that. For now, of course we are a small country. We might not be able to compete with others as we want but remember no pain, no gain”.

Dr Sitthiroth from the National Economic Research Institute is also another optimist.   He said “The key point for the whole country is to build our own competitiveness and we still have time even though it’s 2015. Beyond 2015, we still have time—lots of areas we can improve and learn from our ASEAN countries. We can also ask their assistance. I think we just have to build our own competiveness which is a big challenge for Laos. Comparative advantages can be created but we should put 100 percent on our own capacity especially education.”

The Australian Embassy was pleased with the audience response to the Q&A forum, and hopes to hold similar events in future, covering other topics of importance to Laos and Australia.