Laos is among the world’s poorest
nations and its mainly agricultural economy functions almost completely
at subsistence level. Rice, the primary crop, is grown in
many different varieties; other crops include cassava, maize, pulses,
fruits, groundnuts, tobacco sugar cane, and coffee. Though not well
known outside the region, Laotian coffee is highly rated
among connoisseurs and is presently the country’s largest
The country has plentiful, though mainly untapped reserves of lead,
tin, and zinc, as well as iron ore, timber and coal. Industry mostly
involves processing raw materials, mainly food and timber; textiles
and basic consumer goods are also produced.
Despite its relatively isolated and peaceful nature, a tourism
industry has evolved which is presently Laos’ largest source
of income. Development is hindered by a chronic lack of skilled
labour and foreign exchange, and the Laotian economy depends a great
deal on foreign aid (80% of public sector investment is financed
by aid) particularly from Scandinavia, and Japan and more recently
Taiwan, Thailand, and Australia.
Economic reforms started in the early 1990s and included a large-scale
privatization programme. These reforms initially gained
the support of the IMF but failure to meet successive financial
goals resulted in a withdrawal of the Fund’s support in 1998.
Combined with the regional financial crisis, the economy
was in grave trouble by the beginning of 1999 with 100% yearly inflation,
a collapsed currency value and a large shortage of domestic and
Since then a recovery has taken place: the economy is currently growing
at around 6% yearly while inflation has dropped to a more manageable
25%. Nevertheless, the economic prospects are uncertain. Laos has
membership in the Asian Development Bank and the Colombo
Plan, which promotes social and economic development in Asia
and the Pacific.
Punctuality is appreciated. Lightweight suits,
shirt with tie should be worn. All officials don't speak English
and some French will be useful. Business cards should have a Laotian
translation on the back. The best time to visit Laos is the dry season,
from November through April.
Office hours: Monday-Friday
8.00 am - 12.00 pm and 1.30 - 5.30 pm.
The below organizations can offer advice:
Chamber of Commerce and Industry, BP 4596, Sihom Road, Ban Haisok,
Vientiane (tel/fax: (21) 219-223;
Ministry of Finance, Luang Prabang Road, Ban Phonxang,
Vientiane (tel: (21) 412-401; fax: 412-415).