U.S. Relations With Laos
More information about Laos is available on the Laos Page and from other Department of State publications and other sources listed at the end of this fact sheet.
The United States established full diplomatic relations with Laos in 1955, following its full independence from France in 1954. Within a few years, Laos entered into civil war, and the United States supported the country’s royal government. For nearly a decade beginning in 1964, Laos was subjected to heavy U.S. bombing as part of the wider war in Indochina. Following the change of regimes in Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975, a communist government also came to power in Laos. The government aligned itself with Vietnam and the Soviet bloc, implementing one-party rule and a command economy. U.S.-Lao relations deteriorated after 1975, and U.S. representation was downgraded. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Laos sought to improve relations with other countries. Full U.S.-Lao diplomatic relations were restored in 1992. In July 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Laos, marking the first visit by a Secretary of State since 1955. Secretary of State John Kerry was the second, visiting Laos twice in 2016. President Obama became the first U.S. President to visit Laos in September 2016, when he and Lao President Bounnhang Vorachit announced a Comprehensive Partnership.
Accounting for American personnel missing in Laos and clearing unexploded ordnance (UXO) from the war was the initial focus – and remains a key component – of the post-war bilateral relationship. Since that time the relationship has broadened to include cooperation on a range of issues including health, child nutrition, education, environmental protection, trade liberalization, legal reform, counter-narcotics, law enforcement cooperation, and English language training. This expansion in cooperation has accelerated since 2009, with the launch of the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI), which serves as a platform to address complex, transnational development and policy changes in the Lower Mekong sub-region. The United States and Laos share a commitment to ensuring a prosperous and sustainable future for the Mekong sub-region.
U.S. Assistance to Laos
Though still under one-party communist rule, Laos' economy is now essentially a free market system building upon the 1986 introduction of economic reforms. The overarching policy goals for U.S. assistance to Laos are to help the country meet its development goals, improve governance and the rule of law, and increase its capacity to integrate fully within the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the global economy.
A large part of U.S. bilateral assistance to Laos is devoted to improving health and child nutrition. The United States also helps improve trade policy in Laos, promotes sustainable development and biodiversity conservation, and works to strengthen the criminal justice system and law enforcement. The United States has provided significant support for clearance of UXO from the war, particularly cluster munitions, as well as for risk education and victims’ assistance. President Obama announced $90 million in UXO funding over three years during his visit.
Bilateral Economic Relations
U.S. exports to Laos include metals, aircraft, vehicles, and agricultural products. U.S. imports from Laos include apparel, inorganic chemicals, agricultural products, and precious metals. Laos acceded to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2013 and is part of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Both of these organizations have required—and will continue to spur—trade and regulatory reforms, which should make the investment climate more attractive to U.S. companies. WTO and AEC requirements also reinforce fuller implementation of the conditions of the 2005 U.S.-Laos bilateral trade agreement. The United States and Laos have also signed a civil aviation agreement. The two countries also signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement in February 2016.
Laos's Membership in International Organizations
Laos and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, ASEAN Regional Forum, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, and World Bank.
The U.S. Ambassador to Laos is Rena Bitter; other principal embassy officials are listed in the Department's Key Officers List.
Laos maintains an embassy in the United States at 2222 S Street NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel: 202-332-6416).
More information about Laos is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here:
Department of State Laos Country Page
Department of State Key Officers List
CIA World Factbook Laos Page
USAID Laos Page
History of U.S. Relations With Laos
Human Rights Reports
International Religious Freedom Reports
Trafficking in Persons Reports
Narcotics Control Reports
Investment Climate Statements
Office of the U.S. Trade Representative Countries Page
U.S. Census Bureau Foreign Trade Statistics
Library of Congress Country Studies