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Laos, officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and People's Republic of China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south and Thailand to the west.
Modern-day Laos has its roots in the ancient Lao kingdom of Lan Xang, established in the 14th Century under King Fa Ngum. For 300 years Lan Xang had influence reaching into present-day Cambodia and Thailand, as well as over all of what is now Laos. After centuries of gradual decline, Laos came under the domination of Siam (Thailand) from the late 18th century until the late 19th century when it became part of French Indochina. The Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1907 defined the current Lao border with Thailand. After a period as a French protectorate, Laos gained independence in 1949. A long civil war ended officially when the Communist Pathet Lao movement came to power in 1975, ending a six century old monarchy and instituting a strict socialist regime closely aligned to Vietnam.
The government of Laos, one of the few remaining one-party Communist states, began decentralizing control and encouraging private enterprise in 1986. The results, starting from an extremely low base, were striking -- growth averaged 6% per year from 1988-2008 except during the short-lived drop caused by the Asian financial crisis that began in 1997. Despite this high growth rate, Laos remains a country with an underdeveloped infrastructure, particularly in rural areas. It has a rudimentary, but improving, road system, and limited external and internal telecommunications. Electricity is available in urban area and in many rural districts. Subsistence agriculture, dominated by rice cultivation in lowland areas accounts for about 30% of GDP and provides 80% of total employment.
The economy has benefited from high foreign investment in hydro-power, mining, and construction. Laos gained Normal Trade Relations status with the US in 2004, and is taking steps required to join the World Trade Organization, such as reforming import licensing. Related trade policy reforms will improve the business environment.
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