Laos gained Normal Trade Relations status with the US in late 2004. Allowing Lao products to benefit from lower import tariffs levied by the US government, the favorable trading relationship resulted in a significant increase in garment exports from Laos to the US. The current global financial crisis has, however, adversely affected Third World countries across the globe, Laos included, and its exports to the US in 2009 are expected decline further namely on account of continued low consumer spending in the US. The difficult trade situation may be in part mitigated for Laos by being finally admitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO), having submitted its application for the accession to the organization only in last part of 2008.
The largest export earner for Laos is timber and wood products in general, most being exported to Thailand and other countries in the region. While garment products constitute the second most significant export product category, other notable exports are electricity, tin, copper, gold and coffee, none of which may be of interest to a small business importer, who should however take a closer look at possibility of importing handicrafts from Laos.
Of the Lao handicrafts, Lao textile arts, Laotian textiles, silk brocade weavings, Hmong batik and other hilltribe textile arts are of the highest quality. While as elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Lao textiles were traditionally created on back strap looms and for use as sarongs, shoulder cloths or head cloths, often with ritual significance. Whereas in the past textile weaving was inherent practice of every household, today back strap loom weaving and hand loomed textile arts are surviving predominantly only as tourist artifacts although handful of enterprising Westerns have managed to sustain the craft turning it into cottage industry oriented on export, producing articles that while adhering to traditional Lao patterns and designs produce fashion accessories such as shawls and scarves as well as decorative accessories as table cloth and table runners. With the use of chemical dies, although of exquisite patterns and workmanship, many mainstream Lao textiles can be rather garish in color. Indigo blue textiles of Xam Neua (Hua Phan Province, northeastern Laos), traditionally of homespun fiber with indigo blue supplementary weft, strikingly unique in their simple indigo on white patterns, are unlike most textiles in Laos, and inspire wish the look does not vanish forever in the current trend of the art. Unfortunately as mechanized looms and machine loomed fiber has practically brought the back strap loom textile arts to a stop, one with an eye and appreciation for textile arts can see there may be still be an opportunity for another entrepreneur-exporter-importer to inject his own imagination into an art form that craves to be reinvented for the contemporary consumer.
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