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New Zealand’s relationship with the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR, or Lao - formerly Laos) is friendly but limited in size and scope.
Lao is among Asia’s least developed countries and depends heavily on development assistance, including from New Zealand. Our official aid programme is the most substantial of our links to Lao, but increasingly its membership of ASEAN also presents an opportunity for useful dialogue.
Trade between New Zealand and Lao is small. New Zealand’s recent exports have included telephone and transmission apparatus and, from time to time, meat, butter and cheese. The colonial French influence on Lao means the people are not culturally averse to eating red meat and dairy products, but the market for these is not large.
There is potential in Lao for cooperation with New Zealand businesses in forestry, education, agriculture, mining, civil aviation and hydro-electricity generation. Some New Zealand businesses, particularly consultancies, already work in these sectors.
Lao is pursuing World Trade Organization membership and in November 2010 ratified its participation in the ASEAN-Australian-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA).
The Lao government has established new incentive schemes such as tax holidays to help facilitate foreign direct investment. Donor and investor interests and coordinated through the Committee for Planning and Cooperation.
New Zealand’s development cooperation with Lao PDR comprises bilateral support and assistance through regional programmes and contestable funds. The current annual budget for bilateral programmes in Lao is $3.8 million.
At the first Convention on Cluster Munitions meeting in Lao in late 2010, New Zealand announced that it would give approximately $1.1 million for unexploded ordnance (UXOs) clearance work in the northern Xieng Khouang province. Unexploded weapons - a legacy of the Viet Nam War - continue to be a major hindrance to development in Lao.
New Zealand has provided support for the tourism sector since the mid 1990s. The most recent project has focused on UXO clearance and the promotion of community-based tourism at the Plain of Jars in Xieng Khouang - one of Lao’s biggest tourist attractions.
The New Zealand Aid Programme provides assistance to Lao through post-graduate scholarships to study in New Zealand, and New Zealand-based English language training for Lao Government officials. Lao also benefits from regional training programmes supported by the New Zealand Aid Programme such as the Mekong Institute and the Phnom Penh Plan for Development Management.
New Zealand’s ASEAN Flagships initiative, launched in July 2010, will cover an extended scholarships arrangement and will also provide support in agricultural diplomacy, young business leader exchanges and disaster risk management.
Refugees from Lao PDR came to New Zealand in the 1980s and there continues to be a small Lao community here.
Tourism is growing fast as a revenue earner for Lao, contributing around 5 percent of GDP. The UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang in particular receives a large number of visitors, including from New Zealand.
Disarmament Minister Georgina te Heuheu visited Vientiane in November 2010 for the first meeting of the Cluster Munitions Convention.
Official Name: Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR or Laos)
Land Area: 236,800 sq km
Population: 6.4 million (July 2010 estimate)
Capital City: Vientiane
Religion: 60 percent Buddhist, 40 percent animist and spirit cults
Official Language: Lao (official) plus French, English and local languages
Exchange Rate: NZ$1 = 6171 Kip (December 2010)
Political system: One-party state
National government: Lao People’s Revolutionary Party
National legislature: 99 members elected to the National Assembly
Last election: 2006
Next election due: 2011
Head of State: President Lt Gen Choummali Saignason
Head of Government: Prime Minister Mr Bouasone Bouphavanh
Key Ministers: Dr Thongloun Sisolouth, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs; Lt Gen Douangchay Phichith, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence; Mr Somsavat Lengsavad, Deputy Prime Minister and Standing Committee of the Government; HE Dr Nam Viyaketh, Minister of Industry and Commerce.
GDP: US $5.6 billion (2009 est, official rate)
GDP Per Capita (PPP): US $2100 (2009 est)
Real GDP Growth: 6.5 percent (2009 est)
Exports (FOB): US $1.1 billion (2009 est)
Imports (CIF): US $2.09 billion (2009 est)
Main exports: Wood products, coffee, electricity, tin, coffee, gold
Inflation: 0 percent (2009 est)
NZ Exports (FOB): NZ $1 million year ended June 2010 ($3.9 million year to June 2009)
Main Exports: Not listed for 2010, but previously transmission apparatus – telephonic equipment, electronic goods, lamps
NZ Imports (CIF): NZ $231,000 ($313,000 year to June 2009)
Main Imports: Not listed for 2010, but previously clothing, automatic data processing machines
Services Trade: Consulting services are provided by New Zealand based companies (including the engineering, forestry, transport, and education sectors). Services are often funded by Asia Development Bank and World Bank loans, and bilateral / multilateralgrant funding.
The New Zealand Ambassador in Bangkok has been cross-accredited to Lao PDR since February 1963.
The Lao Ambassador in Canberra is cross-accredited to New Zealand.
The Safetravel website provides a travel advisory for travellers to Laos.