Economy of Laos

Economy of Laos

A street market in Luang Prabang
Currency Lao Kip
1 October - 30 September
Trade organisations
GDP $17.66 billion (PPP; 2011 est.)
GDP growth
8.3% (2012 est.)
GDP per capita
$2,700 (PPP; 2011 est.)
GDP by sector
services (42.6%), industry (20.2%), agriculture (37.4%) (2011 est.)
7.6% (2011 est.)
Population below poverty line
26% (2010 est.)
Labour force
3.69 million (2010 est.)
Labour force by occupation
agriculture (75.1%), industry (n/a), services (n/a) (2010 est.)
Unemployment 2.5% (2009 est.)
Main industries
copper, tin, gold, and gypsum mining; timber, electric power, agricultural processing, construction, garments, cement, tourism
Exports $2.131 billion (2011 est.)
Export goods
wood products, garments, electricity, coffee, tin, copper, gold
Main export partners
 Thailand 32.8%
 China 20.7%
 Vietnam 14.0% (2012 est.)[2]
Imports 2.336 billion (2011 est.)
Import goods
machinery and equipment, vehicles, fuel, consumer goods
Main import partners
 Thailand 63.2%
 China 16.5%
 Vietnam 5.6% (2012 est.)[3]
$5.953 billion (31 December 2011 est)
Public finances
$3.179 billion (2006)
Revenues $1.76 billion
Expenses $1.957 billion (2011 est.)
Economic aid $345 million (1999 est.)
Foreign reserves
$773.5 (31 December 2011 est.)
Main data source: CIA World Fact Book
All values, unless otherwise stated, are in US dollars.

The economy of the Lao Peoples' Democratic Republic is rapidly growing, as the government began to decentralise control and encourage private enterprise in 1986.[4] Currently, the economy grows at 8% a year, and the government is pursuing poverty reduction and education for all children as key goals. The country opened a stock exchange, the Lao Securities Exchange in 2011, and has become a rising regional player in its role as a hydroelectric power supplier to neighbors such as China, Vietnam and Thailand.

Laos remains one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia.[5][6] A landlocked country, it has inadequate infrastructure and a largely unskilled work force. The country's per capita income in 2009 was estimated to be $2,700 on a purchasing power parity-basis.

Economic history

With the overthrow of the Laotian monarchy in 1975, the Pathet Lao communist government instituted a planned socialist economy of the Soviet-style command economy system, replacing the private sector with state enterprises and cooperatives; centralizing investment, production, trade, and pricing; and creating barriers to internal and foreign trade.

Within a few years, the PDR Lao government realized these types of economic policies were preventing, rather than stimulating, growth and development. No substantive reform was introduced, however, until 1986 when the government announced its "new economic mechanism" (NEM). Initially timid, the NEM was expanded to include a range of reforms designed to create conditions conducive to private sector activity.

Prices set by market forces replaced government-determined prices. Farmers were permitted to own land and sell crops on the open market. State firms were granted increased decision-making authority and lost most of their subsidies and pricing advantages. The government set the exchange rate close to real market levels, lifted trade barriers, replaced import barriers with tariffs, and gave private sector firms direct access to imports and credit.

In 1989, the PDR Lao government reached agreement with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund on additional reforms. The government agreed to introduce fiscal and monetary reform, promote private enterprise and foreign investment, privatize or close state firms, and strengthen banking. In addition, it also agreed to maintain a market exchange rate, reduce tariffs, and eliminate unneeded trade regulations. A liberal foreign investment code was enacted and appears to be slowly making a positive impact in the market. Enforcement of intellectual property rights is governed by two Prime Minister's Decrees dating from 1995 and 2002 .

In an attempt to stimulate further international commerce, the PDR Lao government accepted Australian aid to build a bridge across the Mekong River to Thailand. The "Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge", between Vientiane Prefecture and Nong Khai Province, Thailand, was inaugurated in April 1994. Although the bridge has created additional commerce, the Lao government does not yet permit a completely free flow of traffic across the span.

These reforms led to economic growth and an increased availability of goods. However, the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, coupled with the Lao government's own mismanagement of the economy, resulted in spiraling inflation and a steep depreciation of the kip, which lost 87% of its value from June 1997 to June 1999. Tighter monetary policies brought about greater macroeconomic stability in FY 2000, and monthly inflation, which had averaged about 10% during the first half of FY 1999, dropped to an average 1% over the same period in FY 2000.

In FY 1999, foreign grants and loans accounted for more than 20% of GDP and more than 75% of public investment.

The economy continues to be dominated by an unproductive agricultural sector operating largely outside the money economy and in which the public sector continues to play a dominant role. Still, a number of private enterprises have been founded and some are quite successful in industries such as handicrafts, beer, coffee and tourism. With United Nations, Japanese, and German support, a formerly state-controlled chamber of commerce aims to promote private business: the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry and its provincial subdivisions.[7]


Further information: Agriculture in Laos

Agriculture, mostly subsistence rice farming, dominates the economy, employing an estimated 85% of the population and producing 51% of GDP. Domestic savings are low, forcing Laos to rely heavily on foreign assistance and concessional loans as investment sources for economic development.

Agricultural products include sweet potatoes, vegetables, corn, coffee, sugarcane, tobacco, cotton, tea, peanuts, rice; water buffalo, pigs, cattle, poultry.

In mid-2012, the Laos government issued a four-year moratorium for new mining projects. The reasons cited were environmental and social concerns relating to the use of agricultural land. [8]


Main article: Tourism in Laos

Tourism is the fastest growing industry in the economy and plays a vital role in the Lao economy. The government opened Laos to the world in the 1990s, and continues to be a popular destination amongst tourists.[9]

Other Statistics

GDP: purchasing power parity - $14.2 billion (2009 est.)
Exchange rate - kips (LAK) per US dollar - 8,556.56 (2009), 8,760.69 (2008), 9,658 (2007), 10,235 (2006), 10,820 (2005)

0 bbl/d (2009 est.)
3,000 bbl/d (480 m3/d) (2009 est.)
0 bbl/d (2007 est.)
3,080 bbl/d (490 m3/d) (2007 est.)

Of the total foreign investment in Laos in 2012, the mining industry got 27% followed by electricity generation which has 25% share.[8]


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