Laos’ growing importance on the world stage is a reflection of its 2013 accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), its membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), its unique position on the Mekong River, the lifeblood of mainland Southeast Asia, and its shared borders with Burma, Cambodia, China, Thailand and Vietnam. As Laos enters international markets, the United States is helping to improve the country’s economic policies and increase its integration within the global economy.
USAID helps Laos modernize its economy while promoting sustainable development and biodiversity conservation. As trade opens Laos’ borders to increased goods and investment partners, USAID also works to mitigate the spread of infectious diseases and pandemic threats.
Laos, a small, landlocked country of 6.6 million people, has boasted the fastest growing economy in Southeast Asia for decades. Despite achieving strong economic growth for the past 30 years, fueled primarily by exports of copper and timber, Laos remains one of the world’s poorest countries. Laos faces challenges achieving sustainable, inclusive economic growth as its infrastructure development and economy are highly dependent on regional demand for its finite natural resources, and growth has not been broadly-shared. Additionally, emerging zoonotic diseases are serious threats to public health, livelihoods and food security.
With roughly 60 million people in the Lower Mekong sub-region directly dependent on the Mekong River for food, livelihoods, water and transportation, it is in the interest of the Government of Laos to ensure that sound social and environmental safeguards are in place for all development projects that impact the river basin. USAID implements bilateral and regional programs in Laos that assist with improved economic growth and trade and address the environment, climate change and key global health issues. Throughout the country, USAID helps the Lao people modernize the economy in a sustainable manner, protect natural resources and improve their quality of life.
- With U.S. assistance, Laos joined the World Trade Organization in 2013 and continues to improve its legal and regulatory framework for trade and investment in order to meet trade commitments.
- Lao officials can now factor in environmental and social considerations as they plan for major infrastructure development projects thanks to USAID support.
- Laos is strengthening its response to tuberculosis based on findings from a USAID-supported study.
ECONOMIC GROWTH AND TRADE
To promote a diversified economy and more sustainable, broadly-shared equitable growth, USAID is helping Laos take full advantage of its recent accession to the WTO by improving the country’s legal and regulatory framework for trade and investment. For instance, USAID provided assistance during the drafting of intellectual property rights legislation — now law — to meet international and WTO standards as well as U.S.-Laos Bilateral Trade Agreement requirements. Public awareness of Lao government commitments to comply with international economic obligations has increased through USAID-funded workshops, training and technical assistance. USAID’s programs encourage active participation by Lao government ministries, the National Assembly and the private sector in economic development planning and discussion with ASEAN, WTO and other regional organizations.
GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENVIRONMENT
USAID partners with Laos to address the transboundary environmental issues facing countries in the Lower Mekong Region. USAID assists the Government of Laos in improving forest management practices that reduce carbon emissions from land use and in helping communities become more resilient to the adverse impacts of climate change. For example, USAID is helping to develop forest management plans in two provinces while promoting a greater decision-making role for women in land-use planning. Additionally, USAID is promoting sustainable green development and better social and environmental safeguards for infrastructure in Laos and throughout the region. Since Laos is situated between Southeast Asia and China — the leading global consumer of illegal wildlife and animal parts — USAID is raising awareness in the region of the illegal wildlife trade and supporting the ASEAN-Wildlife Enforcement Network’s efforts to combat it.
USAID programs support Laos to respond to infectious diseases, including HIV, malaria, tuberculosis (TB) and pandemic threats, such as avian influenza. Due in part to USAID’s HIV prevention, testing, treatment and support activities, HIV prevalence among female sex workers — one of the populations most susceptible to transmission — has remained at under 1 percent in Laos over the past five years. Through the President’s Malaria Initiative, USAID has helped provide life-saving malaria tools such as insecticide-treated nets, diagnostic tests and antimalarial drugs for communities most affected by the disease. USAID further advances global health diplomacy through nutrition and maternal and child health assistance in Laos to address the challenges of high infant, child and maternal mortality and chronic malnutrition.
Last updated: November 24, 2015