Laos country brief
Australia and the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Laos) are longstanding bilateral and regional partners, with a relationship underpinned by development cooperation, business ties and people-to-people links. Diplomatic relations have existed since 1952 – the longest unbroken diplomatic relationship Laos has with any country. Senior Australian and Lao officials engage regularly on the bilateral relationship, regional cooperation and common strategic challenges.
Australia has a long history of development cooperation with Laos. In 2019-20 Australia provided $45 .3 million in total Official Development Assistance to Laos. This included $25 .6 million in bilateral funding.
Through the Australian Government's development policy Partnerships for Recovery — Australia's COVID-19 Development Response, we have pivoted our development partnerships to support Laos' COVID-19 response, including its health security, stability and economic recovery. In partnership with Laos, we are responding directly to COVID-19 and supporting quality primary education, economic growth, gender equality and social inclusion.
Trade and investment relationship
Australian businesses have contributed to Laos' economic development over many years, including in the energy and resources, transport and logistics, and services sectors. An agreement on the promotion and protection of investment between Australia and Laos has been in place since 1995.
Two-way trade in goods and services was worth $13 9 million in 2019 -20, an increase of 7.8 per cent from the previous year . Australia exported $29 million in goods and $48 million in services to Laos in this period. Major Australian goods exports include pumps for liquids and pump parts; specialised machinery and associated parts; civil engineering equipment and associated parts; and taps and valves. Imports from Laos in 2019 -20 were worth $62 million ($30 million worth of goods and $32 million worth of services). Major goods imports include telecommunications equipment and parts; footwear; jewellery; and computers.
Australia and Laos are parties to the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA), which entered into force on 1 January 2010 in Australia and 1 January 2011 in Laos. On 15 November 2020, Australia and Laos joined 13 other countries in signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership after eight years of negotiations.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce in Laos (AustCham Lao) was established in 2005 – the first international chamber of commerce in the country.
Since 2003 Australia has provided duty-free and quota-free access for Lao goods exported to Australia. Australia continues to support reforms that improve the business environment in Laos, particularly through our development cooperation program.
People-to-people links between Laos and Australia are an important part of the relationship. These links are founded on education, tourism and culture. At the time of the 2016 national census, more than 15,000 people in the Australian community identified as having Lao ancestry. In 2019 there were 2,400 short-term arrivals from Laos, with 8,300 Australians visiting Laos during the same period.
Australia is a favoured destination for Lao students studying abroad. In February 2020, nearly 500 Lao students were studying in Australian educational institutions (including 137 in higher education and 127 in vocational education and training).
Australia Awards have supported more than 1,500 Lao people to develop their skills and knowledge through tertiary study in Australia and contribute further to the development of Laos.
Australia and Laos have held regular bilateral human rights dialogues since 2006. These provide a forum for open and constructive discussion of human rights issues of interest to both countries. Reinforcing the bilateral dialogue, the Australian Government provides capacity-building support to Laos under a Human Rights Technical Cooperation Program. This supports Laos' engagement with international human rights processes like the Universal Periodic Review and implementation of international human rights instruments.
Defence and Security
The Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Border Force (ABF) support Laos to strengthen its border capabilities to disrupt transnational organised crime, including human trafficking, people smuggling, and the movement of illicit drugs and precursors. Through capacity-building projects, the Department of Home Affairs and the ABF deliver English-language, passenger risk assessment and document examination training to Lao immigration, customs and drug control officials. To strengthen Laos' ability to combat security and border challenges, the Department of Home Affairs and the ABF also provide expertise and technical assistance to enhance vessel search capabilities, IT systems and immigration law awareness.