That dollar amount reflects a 115.1% increase since 2016 and a 15.7% uptick from 2019 to 2020.
The 5 biggest exports from Laos by value are electrical energy, gold, natural rubber, refined copper and alloys, and copper ores or concentrates. Collectively, those 5 key Laotian exports represent 52.4% of the country’s overall shipments during 2020.
Laos’ Key Trading Partners
The latest available country-specific data from 2019 shows that 96.7% of products exported from Laos were bought by importers in: Thailand (41.4% of the global total), China (28.8%), Vietnam (18.2%), Japan (1.6%), India (also 1.6%), Germany (1.4%), Hong Kong (1%), Switzerland (also 1%), United States (0.5%), Italy (0.4%), Belgium (0.4%) and United Kingdom (also 0.4%).
From a continental perspective, 93.8% of Laotian exports by value were delivered to fellow Asian countries while 5.1% were sold to importers in Europe.
Tinier percentages went to North America (0.7%), Africa (0.2%), Oceania led by Australia (0.1%) then Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (0.03%).
Given Laos’ population of 7.3 million people, its total $6.72 billion in 2020 exports translates to an estimated $925 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 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Laos.
- Mineral fuels including oil: US$1.9 billion (28.9% of total exports)
- Gems, precious metals: $640.6 million (9.5%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $495.7 million (7.4%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $474.4 million (7.1%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $384.1 million (5.7%)
- Copper: $340.4 million (5.1%)
- Woodpulp: $305.5 million (4.5%)
- Vegetables: $215.5 million (3.2%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $199 million (3%)
- Wood: $185 million (2.8%)
Laos’ top 10 exports accounted for 77.2% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Wood was the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 253.5% from 2019 to 2020.
In second place for improving export sales was the gems and precious metals category via a 187.2% gain led by gold.
Laos’s shipments of rubber plus rubber articles posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 75.6%.
The leading decliner among Laos’ top 10 export categories was ores, slag and ash, thanks to its -24.2% drop year over year.
At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, electrical energy represents Laos’ most valuable exported product at 28.8% of the country’s total. In second place were gold (8.3%) trailed by natural rubber (5.5%), refined copper and unwrought alloys (5%), copper ores and concentrates (4.8%), phone system devices including smartphones (3%), tubers of manioc, artichokes and sweet potatoes (3%), chemical woodpulp (2.3%), television, radio and radar device parts (2.2%) and potassic fertilizers (also 2.2%).
Laos generated an estimated $818.9 million trade surplus for 2020, up from $11.9 million in black ink one year earlier.
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.
- Mineral fuels including oil: US$1.3 billion (Up by 212.3% since 2019)
- Gems, precious metals: $621.1 million (Up by 213.2%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $481.3 million (Down by -25.6%)
- Copper: $327.9 million (Down by -22.7%)
- Woodpulp: $300.6 million (Up by 14.5%)
- Rubber, rubber articles: $300.5 million (Up by 90.1%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $191.7 million (Up by 42.7%)
- Vegetables: $182.4 million (Up by 41.4%)
- Wood: $113 million (Reversing a -$36 million deficit)
- Footwear: $98.9 million (Up by 51.1%)
Laos has highly positive net exports in the international trade of electrical energy and, to a less extent, lignite. In turn, these cashflows indicate Laos’ competitive advantages under the mineral fuels-related category.
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$515.5 million (Up by 42.5% since 2019)
- Vehicles: -$411.5 million (Down by -20.2%)
- Articles of iron or steel: -$351.2 million (Down by -3.9%)
- Iron, steel: -$232.2 million (Down by -15.2%)
- Live animals: -$205.9 million (Up by 3510.5%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$158.6 million (Up by 38.8%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$153 million (Down by -60.2%)
- Cereal/milk preparations: -$131.6 million (Up by 554.3%)
- Beverages, spirits, vinegar: -$110 million (Reversing a $4.7 million surplus)
- Miscellaneous food preparations: -$102.2 million (Up by 883.6%)
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 11.4% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($58.9 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 11.4% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2020 compares to 10% for 2019. Those percentages suggest a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Laos’ total economic performance, albeit based on a short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Laos’ average unemployment rate was 1% in 2020, up from an average 0.6% 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 August 10, 2021
Forbes 2016 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on August 10, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on August 10, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on August 10, 2021
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on August 10, 2021
Wikipedia, Flag of Laos. Accessed on August 10, 2021
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on August 10, 2021
Wikipedia, Laos. Accessed on August 10, 2021
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Laos. Accessed on August 10, 2021
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on August 10, 2021
WorldOMeter, Laos Population. Accessed on August 10, 2021