Laos' Luang Namtha province set to become international business centre

Traditional weavers in action in an ethnic village in the Luang Namtha valley. VN/ANN

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN): The northern province of Luang Namtha will soon become a regional transport hub with investment in a dry port, thanks to its strategic location close to China – the world’s second biggest economy.

The Lao government has set aside a massive budget to develop and improve infrastructure in order to create better links with neighbouring countries.

Luang Namtha is a prime site for an international trade centre compared to other provinces in Laos after the north-south economic corridor via the 414-km railway crosses from China into Laos at the Boten border checkpoint in Luang Namtha province.

This route will spur socio-economic development in the province. The cost of the railway construction is about US$5.986 billion and is set for completion at the end of 2021.

When the railway is operational, the journey from Vientiane to the Boten border crossing will be reduced from the present three days by road to less than three hours by train.

Construction of the Vientiane-Kunming railway began on Dec 2,2015, when the Lao PDR celebrated its 40th anniversary.

The railway is part of the Kunming-Singapore Railway Project, which connects Kunming with Singapore, passing through Laos, Thailand and Malaysia, Bounsong Keomanivong, President of the Luang Namtha Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), told Vientiane Times during the first ever LCCI collaboration with Thai business operators last week.

Bounsong gave an interview during an international trade fair titled Mini Thailand Week 2020, held in the provincial capital from Feb 5-9.

He said Luang Namtha would be part of the east-west economic corridor that runs from Myanmar to Vietnam and between Thailand and Vietnam, reducing travel time to just a few hours. This will be suitable for investment to provide services for travellers from these countries.

Road R3 has already been built from the Laos-China border to Thailand via Luang Namtha and Bokeo provinces. This route enables business operators to transport their goods from and to Thailand, Laos and China as a logistics hub in the region.

According to a strategic development plan for transportation and logistics in Laos, this was officially approved by the government in 2015.

The Lao PDR is a member of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific for Dry Ports, which sets aside nine locations that are assigned for international logistics parks in the country.

They include Huayxai in Bokeo, Nateuy in Luang Namtha, Xay in Oudomxay, Luang Prabang province, Thanalaeng in Vientiane, Lak Xao in Borikhamxay, Thakhaek in Khammuan, Xeno in Savannakhet, and Vangtao in Champassak.

Bounsong said Luang Namtha was a small province with a land area of 9,191sq km, of which 85 per cent is mountainous. It has five districts and a population of about 189,000 people, with 17 ethnic groups that have their own traditions and cultures.

The province shares a border with China to the north, Myanmar to the west, Bokeo province to the south, and Oudomxay to the east.

Infrastructure has improved, including the airport, roads, electricity, water supply, schools, hospitals and hotels as well as public places, he added.

In 2019 the province’s economy grew by 8.8 per cent and GDP per capita income was about US$1,700. The majority of local people are farmers who rear animals and grow sugarcane, rice, cassava and watermelons.

The most popular plantation crop is rubber and the province has planted more than 36,000ha and produces more than 73,000 tonnes a year.

In 2019 more than 743,000 people visited Luang Namtha via Boten across the Lao-Chinese border, while more than 67,000 people from within Laos visited the province.

Luang Namtha is best known for its nature-based activities but also has plenty of cultural and heritage attractions that are easy to reach.

These include the Nam Ha Biodiversity Conservation Area, which stretches from the Chinese border through the middle of Luang Namtha province.

It covers over 222,400ha of forest and about 24 per cent of the province, with dozens of rivers and streams crisscrossing its rugged landscape. In 2003 the unexploited forests of the Nam Ha National Protected Area were designated an Asean Heritage Site and consist of more than 300 species of plants and animals.

The area offers many outdoor activities, including homestays, cycling, trekking and kayaking. Visitors can buy local handicrafts and taste organically farmed vegetables, fruit, and traditional dishes. - Vientiane Times/Asia News Network

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