Laos, a landlocked gem in Southeast Asia, captivates with its serene landscapes, including the Mekong River and lush mountains. Steeped in Buddhist heritage, Laos exudes a tranquil charm, welcoming visitors with its temples, traditional festivals, and a laid-back way of life. Embark on a journey through Laos’ economic tapestry as we unravel the key industries shaping its dynamic landscape. From the pivotal role of agriculture and the burgeoning mining sector to the thriving textile industry and the significance of tourism, each sector contributes to the unique fabric of Laos’ economic narrative.
Major Industries in Laos
Approximately 4% of Laos’ total land area, equivalent to around 3,475 square miles, is dedicated to agriculture, despite having 19,305 square miles of arable land. In the 1990s, agriculture played a pivotal role in Laos, contributing significantly to the GDP and employing nearly 80% of the workforce, as per the World Bank. Although the agricultural industry’s contribution to the GDP declined from 65% in 1980 to about 57% in 1991, the number of people employed in the sector remained relatively constant. Laos faced a substantial challenge in 1987 and 1988 due to a prolonged drought that impacted agricultural output. Rice, covering approximately 80% of cultivated land from 1989 to 1990, is a primary crop, predominantly irrigated. The Laotian government made concerted efforts to expand irrigated land and encouraged farmers to use fertilizers. In addition to rice, major crops include coffee, opium, and corn.
Mining stands as a key industry in Laos, contributing 7% to the nation’s economy in 2012. Regarded as one of Asia’s resource-rich countries, Laos boasts abundant mineral wealth, including lead, copper, and gold, attracting significant foreign investments, notably from China and Australia. The inaugural mining venture, the Sepon mine, commenced operations in 2003, marking the onset of Laos’ prominence in the global mining sector. Other noteworthy mines include the Hongsa coal mine, Ban Laomakkha mine, and Phu Kham mine. Notably, Sepon is recognized among the world’s largest gold mines, with estimated reserves of 7.65 million ounces. Besides gold, copper extraction is also integral to the Sepon mine. The Phu Kham mine significantly contributes to Laos’ economy, harbouring reserves of gold, copper, and silver. Additionally, Laos possesses substantial gypsum deposits, primarily mined at the Ban Laomakkha mine, estimated at around 42 million tons. In 2012, the Sepon and Phu Kham mines collectively accounted for over 90% of the country’s mineral production.
The textile sector holds notable economic importance in Laos, with over 30,000 residents employed in the industry in 2006. Experiencing substantial growth since 1990, when just two textile companies operated, the industry burgeoned to over 110 companies by 2006. Predominantly, Laos exports its textile products to European Union nations, drawing considerable foreign investment. Despite the industry’s appeal, the government notes a shortage of skilled workers as a deterrent to further investment. Japan and Thailand stand out among the countries making significant investments in Laos’ textile industry.
Tourism stands as a pivotal industry in Laos, significantly contributing to the country’s foreign exchange earnings. Government data highlights the tourism sector’s remarkable growth, surpassing all other industries. In 2017, Laos welcomed approximately 3,860,000 tourists, with the majority arriving from Thailand, Vietnam, and China. Among Laos’ prominent tourist sites is the Buddha Park, founded in 1958 by renowned sculptor Bunleua Sulilat, featuring over 200 statues from Buddhist and Hindu traditions. Other notable attractions include the Lao National Museum and Wat Si Muang, contributing to Laos’ appeal as a tourist destination.
Economic Growth in Laos
Laos stands out as one of East Asia’s swiftest-growing economies, according to the World Bank. With a notably low unemployment rate of around 0.7% in 2017, attributed to the nation’s rapid economic expansion, Laos demonstrates robust growth factors. The generation of hydroelectricity powering factories and the enactment of pro-growth laws are key contributors to this acceleration. The World Bank anticipates Laos’ economic momentum to persist, propelled by the nation’s effective economic policies.