A landlocked Southeast Asian nation on the Indochinese peninsula, the Lao People’ Democratic Republic shipped an estimated US$5.6 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2018. That dollar amount reflects a 116.5% increase since 2014 and a 7.5% gain from 2017 to 2018.
The latest available country-specific data for 2016 shows that 95.7% of products exported from Laos were bought by importers in: China (36.1% of the global total), Thailand (31.3%), Vietnam (17.2%), India (2.8%), Japan (1.9%), Germany (1.6%), United Arab Emirates (1.1%), Eswatini (1%), United Kingdom (0.8%), Switzerland (0.8%), United States (0.6%) and Singapore (0.5%).
Given Laos’ population of 7.2 million people, its total $5.6 billion in 2018 exports translates to an estimated $800 for every resident in the Southeast Asian country.
In macroeconomic terms, Laos’s total exported goods represent 10.4% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2018 ($53.7 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 10.4% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2018 compares to 14.4% for 2014, seeming to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Laos’s total economic performance. And while this article focuses on exported goods, it is interesting to note that Laos also provided $921.4 million worth of exports-related services to global customers for an additional 1.7% of GDP in PPP.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Laos’ unemployment rate was 0.6% in 2018 down from 0.7% one year earlier, according to Trading Economics.
Top 10 Exports from Laos
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Laotian global shipments during 2018. 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 (25.6% of total exports)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $787.2 million (14.1%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $631.8 million (11.3%)
- Copper: $501.9 million (9%)
- Wood: $266.3 million (4.8%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $193.2 million (3.5%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $169.8 million (3%)
- Woodpulp: $128 million (2.3%)
- Fertilizers: $124.1 million (2.2%)
- Vegetables: $98.6 million (1.8%)
Laos’ top 10 exports accounted for over three-quarters (77.7%) of the overall value of its global shipments.
Woodpulp was the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up by 3,453% since 2017.
In second place for improving export sales was electrical machinery and equipment thanks to a 32.2% increase.
Laos’ shipments of copper posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 24%.
The leading decliner among the top 10 Laos export categories was rubber and rubber articles via a -36.2% drop year over year.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, electrical energy represents Laos’ most valuable exported product at 25.4% of the country’s total. In second place was copper ores and concentrates (10.4%) trailed by refined copper and unwrought alloys (9%), phone system devices including smartphones (7.7%), TV, radio and radar device parts (4.6%), natural rubber (3%), rough wood (2.4%) and potassic fertilizers (2.1%).
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.
- Ores, slag, ash: US$630.7 million (Down by -0.2% since 2017)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $514.8 million (Up by 27.7%)
- Copper: $495 million (Up by 24.2%)
- Wood: $257.5 million (Down by -17%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $187.3 million (Up by 21.6%)
- Woodpulp: $127.6 million (Up by 3488.9%)
- Vegetables: $83.1 million (Down by -27%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $81 million (Up by 7.2%)
- Cereals: $76.5 million (Up by 15.6%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $68.4 million (Down by -50.4%)
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 ores, slag and ash category.
Laos incurred an overall -$735.8 million trade deficit for 2018, down by -44.5% from the -$1.3 billion 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$620.7 million (Down by -17.6% since 2017)
- Vehicles: -$579.9 million (Down by -12.3%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$252.7 million (Down by -12.1%)
- Iron, steel: -$229.3 million (Down by -25.9%)
- Live animals: -$181.7 million (Up by 50%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$161.4 million (Up by 1.7%)
- Cereal/milk preparations: -$112.4 million (Down by -4%)
- Meat: -$106.1 million (Up by 1.6%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: -$96.9 million (Down by -8.7%)
- Perfumes, cosmetics: -$87.1 million (Up by 2%)
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)
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
Forbes 2016 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on June 24, 2018
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on June 24, 2018
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on July 10, 2019
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on June 24, 2018
The World Factbook, Asia: Laos. Accessed on June 24, 2018
Wikipedia, Flag of Laos. Accessed on June 24, 2018
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on July 10, 2019
Wikipedia, Laos. Accessed on June 24, 2018
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Laos. Accessed on June 24, 2018
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on July 10, 2019
World’ Capital Cities, Capital Facts for Vientiane, Laos. Accessed on June 24, 2018