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The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is located in Southeast Asia and covers an area of 236,800 km2, about two-thirds of the area of Germany. The country borders China in the north, Vietnam in the east, Cambodia in the south and Thailand and Myanmar in the west.

Laos is predominantly mountainous, only about 10% of the country consists of lowlands or basins. In the north there are densely wooded mountain ranges with heights of up to 2,000 m, which are very impassable due to deep valley incisions and gorges. Between the individual peaks there are plateaus such as the Tran-Ninh Plateau, which is about 1,200 m above sea level. In the north of the country is also the highest elevation, the Phou Bia with 2 820 m. The east of Laos is characterised by the Annamitic Cordillera, whose peaks reach heights of up to 2,000 m and form the border with neighbouring Vietnam. Towards the west, the country drops down in terraces up to a height of approx. 500 m. The mountains are the most important part of the country.

In the southwest there are the fertile lowlands of the country around the river Mekong. The Mekong is one of the largest rivers in Southeast Asia (a total of 4,500 km), rises in the highlands of Tibet and flows into the South China Sea in Vietnam. The Mekong and its numerous, often fast-flowing tributaries play a very important role in Laos for irrigating agricultural land and generating electricity. The capital Vientiane (Viangchan) is located in the northwest of the country on the Mekong River.

Political System

According to the constitution of August 1991, Laos is a People’s Democratic Republic, with the communist governing party LRVP (Laotian Revolutionary People’s Party) being the only political party approved. The head of state is the president elected for five years by the National Assembly (since June 2006 Choummaly Sayasone). He appoints the cabinet after approval by the National Assembly. The Prime Minister (since December 2010 Thongsing Thammavong) is appointed by the President of the Republic on the recommendation of the National Assembly and presides over the Council of Ministers (five-year term).

The National Assembly consists of a chamber with 132 seats; the members are elected by the people for a term of five years. Laos is divided into 16 provinces and the Vientiane Prefecture.

Economy

Laos is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Since the mid-1980s, the Lao government has successfully liberalised its economy, achieving growth of up to 9% in recent years. However, this high growth rate is built on a very low basis. 27 % of Laotians still live below the poverty line.

Agriculture is the most important economic sector in Laos. Three-quarters of the working population are employed in agriculture, which accounts for one-third of the gross domestic product. The most important crops are rice, cassava, sweet potatoes, vegetables, coffee, sugar cane, tobacco, cotton, tea and peanuts. Forestry is of great importance.

Industry is slowly increasing its productivity and now accounts for 35% of GDP. The strong demand for mining products (especially gold, copper and iron ore) and the export of electricity are driving growth. The virtually non-existent infrastructure and the small number of trained workers are major obstacles to industry.

All ten member states of ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) and thus also Laos belong to the Asian Free Trade Area (AFTA), which was founded in 1994. The ASEAN Free Trade Agreement came into force in 2002. Thailand is the most important trading partner for exports (copper, agricultural and forestry products, clothing) and imports (machinery, vehicles, industrial goods, precious metals), followed by China and Vietnam.

The road network covers a total of around 13,000 km, only a fraction of which is paved. There is an international airport near the capital Vientiane. The Laotian currency is the kip.