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Trade Profile

Foreign Trade in Figures

Laos is open to foreign trade, which represents 78% of its GDP (World Bank). Although Laos is implementing a process to open its economy, the state maintains restrictions on the import of certain goods such as chemical products, weapons and certain types of medication. Timber and weapons cannot be exported. Special permits are required to export rice, rough diamond, gold and polished silver. Laos became a member of the WTO in February 2013. This membership is subject to the adoption of the commitments of the WTO, mainly setting a limit to customs duties, the partial or total opening of all sectors, respecting the regulations of the WTO regarding inspections before shipping and adopting anti-dumping measures. In this regard, the Laotian government held a consultation session in May 2018 to consider the waiver of import and export licenses for cement, steel and rice production.

Laos has suffered a trade deficit for many years, but this trend could be reverted in the coming years due to the steady growth of exports and the completion of infrastructure projects. In fact, the balance of trade in goods showed a surplus in 2017, with exports rising to USD 4.8 billion while imports stood at USD 4.54 billion due to greater sales of electricity and increased output in the processing industry in Special Economic Zones (Lao Ministry of Industry and Commerce). Nonetheless, the balance of trade in both goods and services was expected to show a deficit of USD 2.2 billion according to IMF projections. Laos exports hydroelectric energy to China, Vietnam and especially to Thailand as well as minerals (which is its main source of foreign reserves). Although the export of minerals can be volatile, the export of hydroelectric energy has the advantage of being stable.

The country's main trading partners are the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) (Thailand in particular), China and South Korea. The country exports electricity and precious metals to Thailand, Vietnam, China, India and Japan. The main import products are machinery and equipment, vehicles, gasoline and consumption goods from Thailand, China, Vietnam, South Korea and Japan.

Foreign Trade Indicators 20122013201420152016
Imports of Goods (million USD) 3,0553,0814,2713,8604,720
Exports of Goods (million USD) 2,2712,2642,6622,3403,020
Imports of Services (million USD) 333523479554n/a
Exports of Services (million USD) 553761746790n/a
Imports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 3113245
Exports of Goods and Services (Annual % Change) 7197710
Trade Balance (million USD) -784-817-1,609-2,464-1,387
Foreign Trade (in % of GDP) 9898998678
Imports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 6060585242
Exports of Goods and Services (in % of GDP) 3838413435

Source: WTO – World Trade Organisation ; World Bank - Latest available data.


Main Services

0.8 bn USD of services exported in 2015
Insurance services
Construction services
Financial services
Government services
0.6 bn USD of services imported in 2015
Communications services
Insurance services
Construction services
Government services
Financial services

Source: United Nations Statistics Division, Latest Available Data


Trade Compliance

International Conventions
Member of World Trade Organisation
Party to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal
Main International Economic Cooperation
Member of ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations), AFTA and the ASEAN - China Free Trade Area.

Member of International finance corporation

Member of EAS (East Asia Summit)

Useful Resources
Laos Customs Department
National Organisation of Intellectual Property
The DISM Department of Intellectual Property, Standardization and Metrology.


Learn more about How to Export to Laos on, the Directory for International Trade Service Providers.

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Last Updates: June 2018