The World Trade Organization approved Friday the membership of Laos, ending a 15-year effort by the small Southeast Asian communist nation to join the global trade body. After approval by the General Council, which represents the body\'s 157 members, WTO chief Pascal Lamy signed an accession protocol with Laos’ chief negotiator, Industry and Commerce Minister Nam Viyaketh. Following approval by the Laotian parliament, the country should officially join in early 2013. \"Laos has come a long way since it embarked on the road to membership in 1997,” said Lamy. Laos, one of Southeast Asia\'s poorest nations and the only one in the region yet to join the WTO, has enjoyed robust economic growth of more than seven percent a year over the past decade. Entry into the WTO club brings with it the promise of increased trade volume and new trade partners for Laos, as well as the prospect of fresh investment pouring into the country. Laos’ Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith said that preparations for WTO membership involved more than just changing laws and regulations. \"We had to change our way of doing business,\" Sisoulith was quoted as saying in a WTO statement.