The British Embassy opened its gates in Vientiane’s Ban Phonexay exactly a year ago, on 2 April 2013.
Since the re-opening of the Embassy after a 27 year absence from Laos, the staff of the diplomatic mission, including 2 UK-based diplomats (the Ambassador and Deputy Head of Mission) and 11 locally engaged employees, have been working to raise the profile of the UK in Laos and to cooperate with the Government of Laos in a range of areas, including foreign policy dialogue, trade, education, development assistance, climate change, good governance, combating organised crime and improving the business environment. The Embassy’s child protection training, delivered in conjunction with the National Commission for Mothers and Children and the UK’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) along with a related social media campaign in cooperation with Beeline has reached 30,000 children in Laos. The Embassy has also profiled the UK’s creative industries, organising masterclasses for Lao filmmakers with Oscar-winning UK filmmaker Lord David Puttnam. The imminent opening of the Lao PDR Embassy in London will further UK/Lao cooperation in all of these areas.
To facilitate Laos’ progress towards achieving the Millenium Development Goals, the UK currently provides around £3 million in development aid (approx. USD4,9 million), with funding from the UK Department for International Development, the UK International Climate Fund as well as funds from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office ASEAN Programme Budget. UK funding has amongst others led to the clearance of 6 million square metres of land from unexploded ordinance and the destruction of 15,000 items of ordinance, primarily cluster bombs.
On the consular side, this past year has seen an increase in British tourists by 12%. In 2013, 41,741 British tourists visited Lao PDR. The Embassy has so far held 3 mobile visa services for UK visa applicants in Vientiane and the number of UK visa applications from Laos increased by 59% compared to 2012.
Bilateral trade between the UK and Laos has increased both ways. Imports from Laos to the UK have risen by 7% during the past year, amounting to £43 million (approx. USD71,5 million). Imports to the UK from Laos consist almost entirely of garments. Laos’ imports from the UK – mainly pharmaceuticals, vehicles and textiles – have increased by 31% to £4,5 million (approx. USD7,5 million). Working together with the European Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Laos and the British government’s regional UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) network, the Embassy is working hard to promote British business in Laos.
The UK is supporting Laos to help develop its skills capacity. During the last year, two agreements with the National University of Laos have been signed: one on the delivery of sustainable forestry management training in cooperation with the University of Wolverhampton, the other with Aston University to build links with Aston’s hub at the University of Danang in Vietnam. Since opening its doors, the British Embassy has developed its network of UK alumni which facilitates the Embassy’s work in a number of areas, since UK alumni occupy senior positions in both government and private sector organisations. The UK government’s prestigious Chevening Scholarship programme is expanding in Laos and the Embassy will be offering more scholarships in future years.
The British Embassy has raised the UK’s profile through social media and local TV and print media. The Embassy’s active digital presence on its website, Facebook page, blog as well as Twitter page is having a positive impact across audiences in Laos, the UK and other countries.