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Modern-day Laos has its roots in the ancient Lao kingdom of Lang Xang, established in the 14th Century under King FA NGUM. For 300 years Lang Xang had influence reaching into present-day Cambodia and Thailand, as well as over all of what is now Laos. After centuries of gradual decline, Laos came under the domination of Siam (Thailand) from the late 18th century until the late 19th century when it became part of French Indochina. The Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1907 defined the current Lao border with Thailand. In 1975, the Communist Pathet Lao took control of the government ending a six-century-old monarchy and instituting a socialist regime closely aligned to Vietnam. A gradual return to private enterprise and the liberalization of foreign investment laws began in 1986. Laos became a member of ASEAN in 1997.

Current Day Summary

The government of Laos began decentralising control and encouraging private enterprise in 1986. The results, starting from an extremely low base, were striking - growth averaged 6% per year from 1988-2008 except during the short-lived drop caused by the Asian financial crisis that began in 1997. Despite this high growth rate, Laos remains a country with an underdeveloped infrastructure, particularly in rural areas. It has no railroads, a rudimentary road system, and limited external and internal telecommunications, though the government is sponsoring major improvements in the road system with support from Japan and China. Electricity is available in urban areas and in many rural districts. Subsistence agriculture, dominated by rice, accounts for about 40% of GDP and provides 80% of total employment. The government depends upon aid from international donors for over 80% of its capital investment. The economy has until recently benefited from high foreign investment in hydropower, mining, and construction. The fiscal crisis of late 2008, and the rapid drop in commodity prices - especially copper - has slowed these investments. Several policy changes since 2004 may help spur growth. Laos is taking steps to join the World Trade Organization. Economic prospects are improving gradually as the administration continues to simplify investment procedures and as a more competitive banking sector extends credit to small farmers and small entrepreneurs. The government appears committed to raising the country's profile among investors. Foreign donors have praised the Lao government for its efforts to improve the investment regime. The World Bank has declared that Laos' goal of graduating from the UN Development Program's list of least-developed countries by 2020 could be achievable.

Country name: Conventional long form: Lao People's Democratic Republic, Conventional short form: Laos
Capital: Name: Vientiane (Viangchan), Geographic coordinates: 17 58 N, 102 36 E, Time: GMT +7
Administrative divisions: 17 provinces (khoueng, singular and plural) and 1 capital city; Attapeu, Bolikhamxay, Bokeo, Champasak, Houaphan, Khammouane, Luang Namtha, Luang Phrabang, Phongsaly, Oudomxay,  Saravane, Savannakhet,  Sekong, Vientiane Province, Xayabouri ,Xiengkhouang, Xaysomeboun, Vientiane Capital)
Government: One-party Republic
Head of State: President Choummaly Sayasone
Prime Minister/Premier: HE Thongsing Thammavong
Foreign Minister: Dr Thongloun Sisoulith (also Deputy Prime Minister)
Independence: 19 July 1949 (from France)
Constitution: Promulgated 14 August 1991
Location Southeastern Asia, northeast of Thailand, west of Vietnam
Geographic coordinates: 18 00 N, 105 00 E
Southeast Asia Area: Total: 236,800 sq km, Country comparison to the world Land: 230,800 sq km Water: 6,000 sq km
Land boundaries: Total: 5,083 km, border countries: Burma 235 km, Cambodia 541 km, China 423 km, Thailand 1,754 km, Vietnam 2,130 km
Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)
Maritime claims: None (landlocked)
Climate: Tropical monsoon; rainy season (May to November); dry season (December to April)
Terrain and Geography: Mostly rugged mountains and thickly forested; some plains and plateaus.
Laos is landlocked; the Mekong River forms a large part of the western boundary with Thailand
Elevation extremes: Lowest point: Mekong River 70 m - Highest point: Phou Bia 2,817 m
Natural resources Timber, hydropower, gypsum, tin, gold, gemstones, copper
Land use: Arable land: 4.01%, permanent crops: 0.34% other: 95.65% (2005)
Irrigated land: 1,750 sq km (2003)
Natural hazards: Floods, droughts, typhoons
Environment - current issues: Unexploded ordnance; deforestation; soil erosion; most of the population does not have access to potable water
Environment - international agreements: Party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection
Population: 6,834,942 (July 2009 est.) Country comparison to the world: 102
Age structure: 0-14 years: 40.8% (male 1,400,126/female 1,386,480)
15-64 years: 56.1% (male 1,898,995/female 1,936,892)
65 years and over: 3.1% (male 92,070/female 120,379) (2009 est.)
Median age: Total: 19.3 years, Male: 19 years, Female: 19.6 years (2009 est.)
Population growth rate: 2.316% (2009 est.) Country comparison to the world: 38
Birth rate: 33.94 births/1,000 population (2009 est.) Country comparison to the world: 42
Infant mortality rate: Total: 77.82 deaths/1,000 live births Country comparison to the world: 23
Male: 86.94 deaths/1,000 live births Female: 68.25 deaths/1,000 live births (2009 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: Total population: 56.68 years Country comparison to the world: 190
Male: 54.56 years Female: 58.9 years (2009 est.)
Urbanization: Urban population: 31% of total population (2008) Rate of urbanization: 5.6% annual rate of change (2005-10 est.)
Sex ratio: Total population: 0.98 male(s)/female (2009 est.)
Major infectious diseases: Food or waterborne diseases: bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever, H5N1 avian influenza vectorborne diseases: dengue fever and malaria
Ethnic groups: Lao 55%, Khmou 11%, Hmong 8%, other (over 100 minor ethnic groups) 26% (2005 census)
Religions: Buddhist 67%, Christian 1.5%, other and unspecified 31.5% (2005 census)
Languages: Lao (official), French, English, and various ethnic languages
Literacy: Definition: age 15 and over can read and write Total population: 68.7%
Male: 77% Female: 60.9% (2001 est.)
School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education) Total: 9 years Male: 10 years Female: 8 years (2006)
Education expenditures: 3% of GDP (2006) Country comparison to the world: 146
GDP (official exchange rate): $5.26 billion (2008 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 7.5% (2008 est.) Country comparison to the world: 25, 7.5% (2007 est.) 8.3% (2006 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP): $2,100 (2008 est.) Country comparison to the world: 185, $2,000 (2007 est.) $1,900 (2006 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP - composition by sector: Agriculture: 39.2% Industry: 34.3% Services: 26.5% (2008 est.)
Labor force: 2.1 million (2006 est.) Country comparison to the world: 117
Labor force - by occupation: Agriculture: 80% Industry and services: 20% (2005 est.)
Unemployment rate: 2.4% (2005 est.) Country comparison to the world: 26
Budget: Revenues: $811.6 million Expenditures: $955.9 million (2008 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 8.6% (2008 est.) Country comparison to the world: 133, 4.5% (2007 est.)
Population below poverty line: 30.7% (2005 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share: Lowest 10%: 3.4% Highest 10%: 28.5% (2002)
Agriculture - products: Sweet potatoes, vegetables, corn, coffee, sugarcane, tobacco, cotton, tea, peanuts, rice; water buffalo, pigs, cattle, poultry
Industries: Copper, tin, gold, and gypsum mining; timber, electric power, agricultural processing, construction, garments, cement, tourism
Industrial production growth rate: 11% (2008 est.) Country comparison to the world: 8
Electricity - production: 3.075 billion kWh (2007 est.) country comparison to the world: 125
Electricity - consumption: 3.068 billion kWh (2007 est.) Country comparison to the world: 127
Electricity - exports: 268 million kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - imports: 475.9 million kWh (2007 est.)
Exports: $1.163 billion (2008 est.) Country comparison to the world: 148, $922.7 million (2007 est.)
Exports - commodities: Wood products, coffee, electricity, tin, copper, gold
Exports - partners: Thailand 34.7%, Vietnam 13.2%, China 8.6%, South Korea 4.5% (2008)
Imports: $1.384 billion (2008 est.) Country comparison to the world: 163 $1.065 billion (2007 est.)
Imports - commodities: Machinery and equipment, vehicles, fuel, consumer goods
Imports - partners: Thailand 68.7%, China 11.3%, Vietnam 4.7% (2008)
Debt - external: $3.179 billion (2006) Country comparison to the world: 119
Exchange rates: Kip (LAK) per US dollar - 8,760.69 (2008 est.), 9,658 (2007), 10,235 (2006), 10,820 (2005), 10,585.5 (2004)