Lao Small and Medium Enterprises Discuss Competitiveness in the Era of Regional Economic Integration

The Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Service Center of the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LNCCI), in close cooperation with the Regional Economic Integration of Laos into ASEAN, Trade and Entrepreneurship Development (RELATED) Project of the Lao – German Development Cooperation, organized a two-day seminar on “Challenges and Opportunities for Lao SMEs to Successfully Compete in the Era of Regional Economic Integration”. The seminar was prepared as a parallel event to the Made in Laos 2018 Exhibition and was held at the Lao-ITEC Center in Vientiane on 14th and 15th of March 2018. More than 100 delegates, encompassing senior leaders of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, the provincial Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and a large number of Lao SMEs graced the two-day seminar. The German Development Cooperation is very proud to support SME development in Laos through the Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.

In his opening speech, H.E Somchit Inthamith, Vice Minister of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, highlighted that promoting SME development in Lao PDR is one of the current key priorities of the Lao Government. He underlined the importance of enhancing competitiveness among Lao SMEs and invited the SME Service Center at LNCCI to assist Lao SMEs to become more competitive in the era of regional economic integration. He also invited the Lao SMEs to actively participate in the implementation of the SME Development Plan 2016-2020, thereby helping the Lao economy to continuously grow and prosper in the ASEAN and international markets. Mr. Sioasawath Sawengseuksa, Honorable President of the LNCCI underpinned the importance of competitiveness outlined in the four strategic orientations that LNCCI is embarking on. They include 1) improving the enabling environment for business operations, 2) improving service provision to Lao SMEs, 3) assisting Lao businesses to efficiently brand and promote products and services made in Laos by establishing a Made in Lao Office and 4) developing information centers and systems for Lao SMEs. Dr Hartmut Janus of the RELATED project highlighted that the German Development Cooperation is very proud to support SME development in Laos. The German “Mittelstand” is proverbial in English language and a worldwide success model. Highlighting the importance of diversifying the Lao economy, Dr Janus urged to focus on strengthening agro-processing, manufacturing and services sectors to improve the quality of economic growth in Lao PDR. Mr. Bountheung Douangsavanh, Deputy Director General of the Department of Small and Medium Enterprise Promotion of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce outlined the 7 policies of the SME Development Plan 2016-2020. He highlighted the government’s desire to develop entrepreneurship in Lao PDR, on creating an enabling system for registering SMEs and on improving SMEs’ access to finance.

The seminar incorporated practical and successful examples and deliberations on a) improving market access via promotion and branding, b) experience sharing on success factors of proven business models, c) improving access to finance, and d) understanding non-bank financial products. The seminar featured speakers from academia such as the Khon Kaen University, successful Lao SMEs such as Sinouk Coffee, innovative financial institutions such as BFL, Krungsri Leasing, Ekphatthana Microfinance Institution and private sector oriented development projects such as the EU financed Luang Prabang – Handle with Care project, the Helvetas supported project on promoting tea from Laos, and the Lao Brand Promotion and Development Office supported by the United National Development Programme.