A landlocked Southeast Asian nation on the Indochinese peninsula, the Lao People’ Democratic Republic shipped an estimated US$5.74 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2019. That dollar amount reflects a 92.2% increase since 2015 but a -1.4% gain from 2018 to 2019.
The latest available country-specific data from 2018 shows that 97.5% of products exported from Laos were bought by importers in: Thailand (48.2% of the global total), China (26.6%), Vietnam (15.2%), India (2.2%), Japan (1.5%), Germany (1.3%), Hong Kong (0.5%), United States (0.5%), Sweden (0.4%), Switzerland (also 0.4%), United Kingdom (0.3%) and United Arab Emirates (also 0.3%).
From a continental perspective, 95.5% of Laotian exports by value were delivered to fellow Asia countries while 3.7% were sold to importers in Europe. Tinier percentages went to North America (0.7%), Africa (0.04%), Oceania led by Australia (0.03%) then Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (0.02%).
Given Laos’ population of 7.2 million people, its total $5.74 billion in 2019 exports translates to an estimated $800 for every resident in the Southeast Asian country.
Top 10 Exports from Laos
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Laotian global shipments during 2019. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Laos.
- Mineral fuels including oil: US$1.4 billion (24.8% of total exports)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $675.3 million (11.8%)
- Copper: $614.6 million (10.7%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $539.1 million (9.4%)
- Woodpulp: $269.7 million (4.7%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $260.9 million (4.5%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $226.8 million (4%)
- Wood: $218.7 million (3.8%)
- Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $119.6 million (2.1%)
- Vegetables: $111.5 million (1.9%)
Laos’ top 10 exports accounted for 77.7% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Wood was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 449.5% from 2018 to 2019. In second place for improving export sales was unknit and non-crocheted clothing and accessories via a 76.1% gain. Laotian shipments of salt, sulphur, stone and cement posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 54.9%. The leading decliner among Laos’ top 10 export categories was ores, slag and ash thanks to a -29.1% drop year over year.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, electrical energy represents Laos’ most valuable exported product at 14.6% of the country’s total. In second place were refined copper and unwrought alloys (7.5%) trailed by copper ores and concentrates (7.2%), phone system devices including smartphones (3.5%), natural rubber (3.2%), television, radio and radar device parts (2.1%) and chemical woodpulp (1.9%).
The following types of Laotian product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus. Investopedia defines net exports as the value of a country’s total exports minus the value of its total imports.
In a nutshell, net exports represent the amount by which foreign spending on a home country’s goods or services exceeds or lags the home country’s spending on foreign goods or services.
- Copper: US$608 million (Down by -18.1% since 2018)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $603.3 million (Up by 7.3%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $537.3 million (Down by -28.6%)
- Woodpulp: $268.4 million (Down by -6.1%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $221.2 million (Up by 92.6%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $184.7 million (Up by 80.6%)
- Wood: $176.7 million (Reversing a -$13.4 million deficit)
- Vegetables: $97.7 million (Up by 0%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $87.1 million (Up by 52.9%)
- Cereals: $75.8 million (Up by 123.7%)
Laos has highly positive net exports in the international trade of copper, precious-metal, iron, tin, zinc or lead ores and concentrates. In turn, these cashflows indicate Laos’s strong competitive advantages under the copper plus the ores, slag and ash category.
Laos incurred an overall -$394.2 million trade deficit for 2019, up by 1,086% from the -$33.2 million in red ink one year earlier.
Below are exports from Laos that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Laos’s goods trail Laotian importer spending on foreign products.
- Machinery including computers: US-$730 million (Up by 24.4% since 2018)
- Vehicles: -$491.9 million (Down by -18.7%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$308.2 million (Up by 20.1%)
- Iron, steel: -$264 million (Down by -16.3%)
- Live animals: -$239 million (Up by 3,321%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$135.9 million (Up by 11.2%)
- Cereal/milk preparations: -$110.7 million (Up by 443.1%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: -$102.6 million (Up by 2,106%)
- Paper, paper items: -$88.7 million (Up by 28.6%)
- Miscellaneous food preparations: -$86.7 million (Up by 891.8%)
Laos has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the machinery including computers category, notably for computers and related parts or accessories.
Laotian Export Companies
Not one Laotian corporation ranks among Forbes Global 2000.
Wikipedia lists international trade-related companies from Laos. Selected examples are shown below.
- Electricité du Laos (electricity)
- Lao Airlines (airliner)
- Lao Brewery Company (alcoholic beverages)
- Lao Skyway (airliner)
- Nam Theun 2 Power Company (electricity)
In macroeconomic terms, total exported goods from Laos represent 10% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2019 ($57.1 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 10% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2019 compares to 10.4% for 2018. Those metrics suggest a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Laos’ total economic performance.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Laos’ average unemployment rate was 0.6% in 2019 same as one year earlier, according to Trading Economics.
Nicknamed the “Sandalwood City”, Vientiane is the capital city for Laos.
See also Indonesia’ Top 10 Exports, Indonesia’ Top 10 Imports, Top Asian Export Countries and Coal Exports by Country
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Asia: Laos. Accessed on June 2, 2020
Forbes 2016 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on June 2, 2020
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on June 2, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on June 2, 2020
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on June 2, 2020
Wikipedia, Flag of Laos. Accessed on June 2, 2020
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on June 2, 2020
Wikipedia, Laos. Accessed on June 2, 2020
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Laos. Accessed on June 2, 2020
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on June 2, 2020
WorldOMeter, Laos Population. Accessed on June 2, 2020