January 9, 2008


Laggard Laos turns the economic corner (Bertil Lintner, 1/10/08, Asia Times)

The Lao economy has grown by more than 7% for the past two years, driven by foreign investment in the development of the hydroelectric power industry, fast expanding gold and copper mining activity, and a rapidly growing tourism industry. Since 2001, the Lao economy has grown at an average annual rate of 6.5%. Official development assistance and aid still contribute largely to the national budget, but merchandise trade is increasing as a driver of growth, up from 45.8% of GDP in 2005 to nearly 61% in 2006, according to World Bank statistics.

Growing garment, horticultural and timber sectors have improved Laos' economic performance and helped to narrow external debt. The signs of increased economic activity are visibly apparent in Vientiane, where formerly pot-holed, dusty streets are now clean, paved and full of traffic. New shops sell imported consumer wares, new motorcycles and cars zoom through once sleepy streets, and the city boasts a bevy of Internet cafes frequented not only by foreign tourists and aid workers but locals as well.

Another measure of rising prosperity: the number of mobile phones in the country grew to 638,200 in 2006 from a mere 29,500 in 2001, one of the fastest expansions in the region over the same period. The percentage of the population in Laos with mobile phones, still lower than in neighboring Vietnam, is notably higher than in nearby Cambodia, which likewise is experiencing an unprecedented economic boom, and considerably higher than in impoverished Myanmar and East Timor.

The Lao government has in fits and starts promoted the transition from subsistence agriculture towards a more trade- and investment-driven economy. Although the communist government maintains socialist rhetoric and vestiges of the old central planning regime, for all practical sakes and purposes Laos is now in the main a market economy.

You can delay the End of History, but not avoid it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 9, 2008 6:29 AM
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