Wednesday, 12 October 2016
Lazy Laos…or leading the way in UK and ASEAN?
The Nation article “Lazy Laos” sends up the stereotype of Laos as a quiet backwater of South East Asia – but recognises the growth and sounds a note of caution for Thailand.
More than a few nations, including UK, should be paying close attention to a new ASEAN tiger. 7% growth one of the highest in the world at the moment (and the same in Cambodia) could be dismissed as starting from a low base and decades of isolation and a centralised economy.
But something far more structurally innovative is in place with Laos one of the first – if not the first – nation to place the UNSDG30 global goals into its national policy, and the 5 year National Plan to 2020.
And an adaptation of the goals has been approve by the outgoing UN Secretary-General ban Ki-Moon with a Goal 18 on UXO to have Laos demined, zero landmine casualties and existing casualties cared-for by 2025.
No mean feat as a goal, with even President Obama on the first-ever US presidential visit, recognising Laos as the world’s most bombed nation during the French and American wars of the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s. The deluge of B52 bombing raids, napalm strikes, Agent Orange deformities and cluster bombs yielding a deadly harvest even now.
For UK, the failure to implement the UNSDG30 as a part of national policy is an astonishing oversight. Especially as shown by Laos, and also Philippines, the global goals are meant to be tailored to each nation’s specific circumstances.
In UK, malnutrition doesn’t have the same connotations as in say Sudan – a potbelly and diabetes are more likely from obesity than malnutrition - but certainly that goal could be adapted to say evaluate children relying on food banks etc. A shocking failure for a G20 nation and the world’s 5th largest economy.
As an aside, the recent WFP report on malnutrition in Cambodia is horrifying with 5M stunted and a GDP cost of c.2%.
The UK can rightly be proud of its DFID work on Third World aid and achieving the UN target of 0.7% GNI. And it’s not unreasonable to link aid to some UK national interests in say supporting the Commonwealth.
But the ending of $20M in DFID aid to Cambodia, one of the world’s poorest nations, seems astonishing and likely to increase hardship in Cambodia with the end of LDC status.
That’s a potential danger in removing World Bank/IMF and ADB and AIIB grants and funds as well as DFID funds – and the excellent DIFD/MAG landmine activity in Phonsavan on the Plain of Jars. perhaps the world’s best small photography gallery and museum?
Here in Kent we may be short of rice-fields but the agricultural colleges of Hadlow and orchards of Pinebury, universities and colleges of Canterbury and Broadstairs, STEM science labs of Sandwich and Sittingbourne, and even more so the Veetee Indian rice mills are poised to support ASEAN trade.
##Lazy buffalo too?##
But isn’t Thailand also missing an opportunity with lazy Laos? And not just in adopting the UNSDG30 as part of the Thailand 4.0 national plans or bandying around insults as with the buffalo of Isaan?
For Thailand, especially Isaan, are culturally close to Laos. The 20M people of Isaan and 7M people of Laos make a significant trade bloc and ASEAN open borders allow easier migration and working status with Laos that say UK has struggled with EU and Brexit.
And much of that 7M Lao population is in the main cities along the length of the Mekong – literally a stone’s throw away from Thailand. Whether Vientiane opposite Nong Khai and Udon or Savannaket and Mukdahan, or Pakse and Ubon.
Surely an economic growth zone for Thailand and Laos could be facilitated with the various Australian Friendship bridges. A particularly natural and easy extension of OTOP trade programmes in say textiles or Thai and Lao tourism programmes, or the Creative Industries of pothole bathers of Tak and Khon Kaen and Buriram featured on the BBC too:
Palm would be a terrific hire for the new Sincerity office in BKK as she's clearly a shining light of Thailand's Creative Industries.
##Rice and easy does it?##
But rice – whether sticky or jasmine or red or black or any other permutation – must be crucial to both economies in general and especially Thailand from the Rice Pledging Schemes surpluses. Few would doubt the success of the recent rice exports to Iran and China, but surely Laos and Cambodia provide a natural and easy 22M people market – about the same size as Isaan - for surplus Thai rice especially against the backdrop of Cambodian malnutrition?
The ADB and World Bank must again be the simplest way to purchase up surplus Thai rice and provide humanitarian exports to its ASEAN near-neighbours in Cambodia and Laos and further afield in Philippines now a net importer of rice?
The debate around the best use of land for agriculture or forest or housing is a wider one, but redistributing existing surpluses before they waste must be paramount for Thailand and ASEAN? Consideration must surely be key for mutually supportive rice marketing programmes in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos – the UK for example having limited awareness, differentiation and distribution of the different rice stocks.
The new announcement of purity of Hom Mali rice must surely be a key factor for sales of Thai exports to USA and EU?
##Marketing Thailand and Laos stronger together##
Similar consideration could be given as to how Thai and Lao tourism is marketed in Europe and USA. Scotland and Iceland Tourism Boards for example are exploring synergies in their common Scandinavian heritage and package holidays and cruise ship events.
Certainly Thailand and Laos should be cooperating on multi-destination breaks for foreign visitors to increase holiday length and spend once the plane has touched down in Asia. While cruise ship Mekong breaks have potential as great as say Halong Bay.
And it would be natural and easy for AusAid to extend its sterling work on Mekong bridges through the 4,000 islands of Champasak and Southern Laos and into North East Cambodia for rail and road links through to HCMC and back through the markets of Aranyaprathet and Bangkok?
Even the Royal Road linking Isaan and Khmer and Southern Lao temples.
And downtown Battambang or Siem Reap or Paklay is a lot easier to reach than Tehran or Tianjin for rice trucks or an expansion of 7-11 or Circle K deliveries.
While the TPP link to USA, Canada and Latin America, link, from the deep sea port at Vinh requires only the briefest of rail-lines through to Vientiane and the nearby northern Isaan markets.
And, as an aside, surely Thailand as well as UK should be thinking, with the over-development of Phuket and Samui, of the sustainable development investment potential of the Mergui Archipelago and islands with the newly-democratic Myanmar of Aung San Suu Kyi?
A Phuket 2.0 as part of Thailand’s 4.0 work?
###Laos in the house##
Certainly the heartland of northern Isaan, central Laos and central Vietnam seems a stronger economic trade route than either Dawei or a Chinese rail link through the empty northern highlands of Laos. Here in East Kent we’ve unfortunately seen the white elephants of Roads to Nowhere and empty ports and ghost cities of Medway.
While the markets of Yunnan are more easily reached though the existing railway from Hanoi or a short extension from Myitkyina. A tourism route through the Laos highlands would be less appealing as half of that 800km would be in tunnels, rendering any views of the Switzerland of Asia as rather dull to say the least.
While the road to democracy for Thailand in 2017 has been signposted with the Charter Referendum, the differing results from Isaan, the North and Deep South have highlighted the schisms in Thai society.
Thailand has one of the most-centralised economies with over 80% of state funding, according to The Economist magazine, spent in Bangkok with obvious imbalances and frustrations in the rest of Thailand not befitting from such State funds.
A situation the UK has seen in the North-South Divide that HS2 and HS3 is designed to help rectify or the Whitehall out of Whitehall programmes such as Salford Media City. Or the frustrations highlighted in the Scottish referendum and concerns over Brexit in Wales and Northern Ireland.
For if Lazy Laos is something of a slightly racist cliché like the drunken Scots then perhaps we should all be drinking from that still, given that Lao UNDSDG30 work and Scotland announced as one of the world’s most progressive nations last week.
And a peaceful and prosperous Thailand of the 21st century, and UK, could well benefit from the work of lazy Laos so far.
Time for Change
* July Updates: http://sincerityagency.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/misc-articles-updates-july-2016.html
* Working on a misc issues: Magellan Anniversary - Spain and LatAm, Almeria Universities links and Kent-Thai orchids
* Also Solomon Islands cruise ships
* Benelux strategy: Panasonic and Phillips - DNA bathroom mirror
* One Essex Court and Inns fraud: Grabiner, Glick, Hollingworth, Leavor etc