"Laos, one of the poorest countries in Asia, has made some notable political, social, and economic progress in recent years. Religious freedom reportedly has improved, particularly in urban areas. In 2009, the LPDR [Laos People's Democratic Republic] ratified the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and promulgated a legal framework for non-governmental organizations. Opium production and use have dropped dramatically since 1998. Between 1988 and 2008, the economy grew by over 6% per year, with the exception of 1997-1998 due to the Asian Financial Crisis. Meanwhile, U.S.-Laos trade has grown rapidly, albeit from a low base. In 2008, total trade between Laos and the United States was valued at $60 million compared to $15 million in 2006. The government has implemented market-oriented reforms, but progress has been slow. Major U.S. policy considerations include urging the Lao government to accept independent, international monitoring of the resettlement of former Lao-Hmong insurgents and Hmong returnees from Thailand; urging the Thai government not to forcibly repatriate Hmong determined to be political refugees; increasing assistance for de-mining activities in Laos; granting trade preferences or tariff relief for Lao products, particularly garments; and developing programs for sustainable management of the Mekong River."
CRS Report for Congress, RL34320