In November 2012, after a 60-year absence, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland established a British Embassy in Vientiane, the capital city of Lao PDR. Philip Malone was appointed as Ambassador. His main concern was to set up the new embassy. However, the British agenda also prioritized trade between the United Kingdom and Lao PDR.
In February 2013, the accession of Lao PDR to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) presented many opportunities in all sectors for foreign investment and business. Among these sectors, those which UK businesses typically excel are education, infrastructure, architectural design, garment manufacturing, foreign investment, and mining.
The timing of the Lao PDR accession to the WTO is significant. The British embassy officially opened two months after the attainment at a ceremony on 02 April 2013. The next day, the embassy hosted an event in Vientiane, with Ambassador Malone opening discussions with leading British businesses in Lao PDR about forming a British Business Group. He discovered that representatives of British businesses had already been informally meeting for years.
At that time, the balance of trade with the UK weighed heavily towards Laos. In 2012, the UK exported £3.3 million value of products to Lao PDR, whereas Lao PDR exported more than £38.6 million value of goods to the UK. The main UK exporters were then JCB, Land Rover, PwC, KPMG, Rio Tinto and Standard Chartered. Further, British nationals were operating Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME) in Lao PDR. An early example was the business of the current BBGL Chairman, Paul Simcock, and his Vientiane Geomatic Services.
At the inaugural meeting, Ambassador Malone noted, “Hundreds of others like Mr Simcock are working in various capacities in and around Lao PDR, and are promoting UK prosperity in the country…The Embassy hopes to see the British Business Group take off, offering a place for those UK-based businesses and British citizens working in Laos to collaborate and advise about issues involving working in Laos as well as serving to provide networking opportunities.”
When British Ambassador, Hugh Evans, arrived in Lao PDR in 2015, he and the embassy were able to place a stronger emphasis on forming a BBGL, following other countries in South East Asia which had set up a British Business Group or British Chamber. In November 2015, Lord David Putnam, Britain’s Trade Envoy to Laos, inaugurated the BBGL at a breakfast meeting with British dignitaries.
The BBGL began as an informal association, but after several discussions with the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LNCCI) and its President, Oudet Souvannavong, Ambassador Evans, and leading members of the British business community, it was decided to formally register a business group for which an application was drawn up and submitted to the Government of Lao PDR.
Associations such as that proposed by the BBGL are, by law, not permitted in Lao PDR. This was resolved by transforming the association into a chamber, and on 05 February 2018, the BBGL received an official license, valid for 5 years, to operate as a non-profit organization.
Under this mandate, the BBGL works to increase business opportunities in Laos, while fostering good relationships between member companies and the local community.
When Ambassador Philip Malone arrived in 2013, he stated:
“The British Embassy in Vientiane endeavours to pursue potential opportunities for UK companies in Laos…The British Business Group will aim to improve the business environment for British investors through having a regular dialogue with relevant authorities.”
The mission of the BBGL is to represent and support the commercial interests of its British, Lao, and international members by acting as a platform to create and promote business opportunities within the working community.
The BBGL encourages trade and investment between Lao PDR and the United Kingdom, regularly sharing relevant content from both countries.