Economy of Laos

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Economy of Laos
CurrencyLao Kip (LAK, ₭)
1 October–30 September
Trade organizations
Country group
PopulationDecrease 7,425,057 (2021)[3]
GDP rank
GDP growth
  • 6.3% (2018) 4.7% (2019e)
  • 1.0% (2020f) 4.6% (2021f)[5]
GDP per capita
  • Decrease $1,879 (nominal, 2023 est.)[6]
  • Increase $9,787 (PPP, 2023 est.)[6]
GDP per capita rank
GDP by sector
40.3% (Jan 2023 est.)[6]
Population below poverty line
  • 22% (2013 est.)[7]
  • 58.7% on less than $3.20/day (2012)[8]
36.4 medium (2012)[9]
Labor force
  • Increase 3,800,051 (2019)[12]
  • 36.9% employment rate (2017)[13]
Labor force by occupation
Unemployment9.4% (2017)[14]
Main industries
Copper, tin, gold, and gypsum mining; timber, electric power, agricultural processing, rubber construction, garments, cement and tourism
Steady 154th (below average, 2020)[15]
ExportsIncrease $3.654 billion (2017 est.)[7]
Export goods
wood products, electricity, coffee, tin, copper, gold and cassava
Main export partners
ImportsIncrease $4.976 billion (2017 est.)[7]
Import goods
machinery and equipment, vehicles, fuel, consumer goods
Main import partners
FDI stock
Increase $15.14 billion (31 December 2012 est.)[7]
Increase −$2.057 billion (2017 est.)[7]
Negative increase $17.16 billion (2020 est)[18]
Public finances
Negative increase 63.6% of GDP (2017 est.)[7]
−5.5% (of GDP) (2017 est.)[7]
Revenues3.099 billion (2017 est.)[7]
Expenses4.038 billion (2017 est.)[7]
Economic aid$0.4 billion (1999 est.)
Increase $1.27 billion (31 December 2017 est.)[7]
Main data source: CIA World Fact Book
All values, unless otherwise stated, are in US dollars.

The economy of Laos is a lower-middle income developing economy. Being one of the socialist states (along with China, Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea), the Lao economic model resembles the Chinese socialist market and/or Vietnamese socialist-oriented market economies by combining high degrees of state ownership with an openness to foreign direct investment and private ownership in a predominantly market-based framework.[19][20]

Following independence, Laos established a Soviet-type planned economy. As part of economic restructuring that aimed to integrate Laos into the globalized world market, Laos underwent reforms called the New Economic Mechanism in 1986 that decentralized government control and encouraged private enterprise alongside state-owned enterprises.[21] As of 2007, Laos ranked amongst the fastest growing economies in the world, averaging 8% a year in GDP growth.[22] It was also forecast that Laos will sustain at least 7% growth through 2019 as well.[23]

The key goals for the government included pursuing poverty reduction and education for all children, also with its initiative to become a "land-linked" country. This is showcased through the ongoing construction of the nearly $6 billion high-speed rail from Kunming, China to Vientiane, Laos. 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. In the current [when? out of date?] period, the economy of Laos relies largely on foreign direct investment to attract the capital from overseas to support its continual economic rigorousness. The long-term goal of the Lao economy as enshrined in the constitution is economic development in the direction of socialism by creating the material conditions to move towards socialism.[24]

Despite rapid growth, Laos remains one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia.[25][26] A landlocked country, it has inadequate infrastructure and a largely unskilled work force. Nonetheless, Laos continues to attract foreign investment as it integrates with the larger ASEAN Economic Community, due to its plentiful, young workforce, and favorable tax treatment.

Laos has significant hydropower resources with large-scale hydropower being widespread; the country has also significant potential for small-scale hydro- and solar power.[27] Excessive production of electricity from hydropower is exported to other countries; despite this, the country continues to also rely on coal in its electricity production.[28]

Economic history[edit]

With the overthrow of the Laotian monarchy in 1975, the Pathet Lao's communist government instituted a planned 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.

Seizure of power by the Communists also resulted in a withdrawal of mainly American external investment, on which the country had become greatly dependent as a result of the destruction of domestic capital during the Indochina Wars.[29]

This changed in 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.

With the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, in 1991, 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. It also agreed to maintain a market exchange rate, reduce tariffs, and eliminate unneeded trade regulations. A liberal foreign investment code was also enacted. Enforcement of intellectual property rights is governed by two Prime Minister's Decrees dating from 1995 and 2002.[30]

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 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.[31]

The latest round of state-owned enterprise reform in 2019 aims to ensure that the remaining SOEs become profitable ventures that are efficient and sustainable sources of income for the national treasury. These measures include closing unproductive enterprises, ensure businesses in which the state has investments are reformed into profitable ventures, and reduce corruption. As of 2019, the State-Owned Enterprise Development and Insurance Department of the Lao government has 183 enterprises under its supervision.[32]

Laos faced an economic crisis in 2022. Caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and external debt primarily from China, it escalated into massive inflation and a debt crisis, bringing the country to the brink of default.[33]


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.[34]

In 2019 Laos produced:[35]

In addition to smaller productions of other agricultural products.[35]


As of 2011, tourism was the fastest growing industry in the economy and played a vital role in the Lao economy. The government opened Laos to the world in the 1990s, and was a popular destination amongst tourists.[36]

Other statistics[edit]

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)

  • Oil - production:
0 bbl/d (2009 est.)
  • Oil - consumption:
3,000 bbl/d (480 m3/d) (2009 est.)
  • Oil - exports:
0 bbl/d (2007 est.)
  • Oil - imports:
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 had a 25% share.[34]


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  2. ^ "World Bank Country and Lending Groups". World Bank. Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  3. ^ "Population, total - Laos". Retrieved December 24, 2022.
  4. ^ a b "World Economic Outlook Database, October 2023". International Monetary Fund. Retrieved October 14, 2023.
  5. ^ "Global Economic Prospects, June 2020". World Bank: 74. 8 June 2020. Retrieved 10 June 2020.
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  19. ^ "Laos - Market Overview". July 15, 2019. Retrieved September 25, 2019. Laos is one of the world's five remaining communist countries. The Lao economic model bears some resemblance to its Chinese and Vietnamese counterparts, in that it has implemented market-based economic practices while maintaining a high degree of state control and welcoming foreign direct investment (FDI). Laos is politically stable.
  20. ^ "Chapter II: The Socio-Economic Regime" (PDF). Constitute. Constitute. 2003. Retrieved September 25, 2019. All types of enterprises are equal before the laws and operate according to the principle of the market economy, competing and cooperating with each other to expand production and business while regulated by the State in the direction of socialism.
  21. ^ "Laos".
  22. ^ "The World Factbook — Central Intelligence Agency". Archived from the original on June 13, 2007. Retrieved 2017-02-11.
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  24. ^ "Preamble" (PDF). Constitute. Constitute. 2003. Retrieved September 25, 2019. During [the years] since the country has been liberated, our people have together been implementing the two strategic tasks of defending and building the country, especially the undertaking of reforms in order to mobilise the resources in the nation to preserve the people's democratic regime and create conditions to move towards socialism.
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  28. ^ Overland, Indra; Sagbakken, Haakon Fossum; Chan, Hoy-Yen; Merdekawati, Monika; Suryadi, Beni; Utama, Nuki Agya; Vakulchuk, Roman (December 2021). "The ASEAN climate and energy paradox". Energy and Climate Change. 2: 100019. doi:10.1016/j.egycc.2020.100019. hdl:11250/2734506.
  29. ^ Baten, Jörg (2016). A History of the Global Economy. From 1500 to the Present. Cambridge University Press. p. 297. ISBN 9781107507180.
  30. ^ Laos
  31. ^, LNCCI
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  33. ^ "Laos economic crisis intensifies amid massive debt – DW – 08/09/2022". Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  34. ^ a b "Vietnam leads investment in Laos". 2013-02-26. Retrieved 2013-04-03.
  35. ^ a b Lao production in 2019, by FAO
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External links[edit]