FACT SHEET: U.S.-Laos relations
President Obama is the first sitting U.S. president to visit Laos. Through increased dialogue and engagement in recent years, the United States and Laos have worked to overcome a painful historical legacy to forge a new partnership based on cooperation and mutual respect. Through the newly-established Comprehensive Partnership, the United States and Laos are opening a new era of bilateral relations based on common interests as well as a shared desire to heal the wounds of the past and build a foundation for the future.
Expanded engagement with Southeast Asia is central to the U.S. Rebalance to Asia. The burgeoning bilateral relationship and U.S. support for Laos in its tenure as Chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year, including our co-hosting with Laos of the U.S-ASEAN Special Leaders’ Summit in Sunnylands, California, attest to U.S. commitment to Laos and the broader region.
Working together to resolve legacy of war issues and pursue humanitarian cooperation enabled the United States and Laos to lay a strong foundation for a forward-looking partnership.
The United States is helping Laos clear unexploded ordnance (UXO), which poses a threat to people and hampers economic development. Over the last 20 years, the United States has contributed over $100 million to support UXO clearance programs, helping reduce annual casualties from over 300 to fewer than 50. The United States is committing $90 million over three years to conduct a comprehensive UXO survey of Laos and for continued clearing operations, and will continue to assist UXO victims in coordination with the Centre for Medical Rehabilitation under the Lao Ministry of Health. These efforts ensure UXO victims have better access to quality rehabilitation services, including orthotics and prosthetics to improve their lives.
Laos and the United States have worked jointly to search for and recover the remains of Americans who were unaccounted for at the end of the Vietnam War, which has resulted in the recovery and identification of the remains of 273 missing Americans. We continue to explore ways to enhance recovery operations to provide the fullest possible accounting of the remaining 301 missing Americans and bring closure to their families. The Lao government committed to increase the size and operational flexibility of U.S.-Lao joint recovery operations, which will help accelerate our accounting efforts and attests to the commitment of both our countries to this humanitarian cooperation.
We are expanding economic ties to support economic development in Laos and create opportunities for U.S. companies. In February 2016, the United States signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with Laos. This agreement will further strengthen economic ties and provides a forum to address issues and enhance opportunities for trade and investment between the two nations.
GE has announced it will open an office in Vientiane, and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Electricité Du Laos, Laos’ state electric utility, to upgrade its technical training center and conduct a detailed technical assessment that will help Laos make investments in a smarter grid that will leapfrog old technologies. Microsoft has partnered with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications to help thousands of Lao students and entrepreneurs access training courses on subjects from technology and engineering to accounting and English language at no cost. The U.S. Trade and Development Agency has committed to fund a feasibility study for a 20 megawatt solar project in Laos, which would be the first, large-scale, non-hydro renewable energy project in Laos and support the country’s goals of diversifying its energy mix.
The United States is committed to help Laos achieve its development goals. This year, USAID will lead new initiatives including a new five-year early grade reading program that will help prepare Lao students for an increasingly competitive and integrated ASEAN community. In addition, Laos has been selected as a Challenge Fund country for Let Girls Learn, which leverages and coordinates the resources of the U.S. government to address the many challenges adolescent girls face to attend and complete school so they can reach their fullest potential. Current development assistance in Laos already includes promoting health and nutrition, trade and investment, higher education, sustainable energy, addressing environmental degradation and the effects of climate change, and the challenges faced by persons with disabilities. A new Lao-American Nutrition Institute, built with U.S. funds, will enable the Oregon Health and Science University and the Lao Ministry of Health to work together to improve child nutrition in Laos. The United States, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has contributed nearly $100 million over 10 years for school meal programs in Laos that allow children to concentrate on their education.
The United States and Laos are advancing the Global Health Security Agenda. Laos formally endorsed and will join the multilateral Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), which was launched in 2014 and now includes over 50 participating countries. The United States has prioritized Laos as a GHSA partner country and is providing technical assistance to Laos to complete a five-year roadmap in 2016. This national roadmap will outline specific milestones for Laos to achieve the GHSA targets, prevent, detect, and respond to biological threats, and fully implement the International Health Regulations. Laos has also made a commitment in 2016 to undergo and publish a Joint External Evaluation of its national capabilities, which the United States has recently accomplished.
The U.S.-supported Lower Mekong Initiative, launched in 2009, serves as a platform to address transnational development and policy challenges in the Lower Mekong region. The initiative explores ways for Lower Mekong countries to work together to bolster regional economic growth and strengthen the environmental and social aspects of regional development, including smart infrastructure, hydropower, and alternative energy.
The United States seeks to strengthen people-to-people ties with Laos by multiplying the connections between the young people of our two countries. Recognizing that 70 percent of Laos’ population is under 30 years old, the United States is engaging the next generation of young leaders and sponsors the full range of U.S. exchange programs for Lao citizens, including Fulbright, Humphrey, the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program, Study of the U.S. Institutes for Scholars, and President Obama’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI). Laos takes full advantage of these programs, and over 2,300 emerging Lao leaders belong to the YSEALI network. We are also increasing our English teaching programs by bringing more teachers and language experts to Laos, and leading a program to bring Lao grade school and university officials to the United States to improve their English-language skills. The United States and Laos committed to begin discussions on establishing a Peace Corps country agreement.
We are committed to promoting respect for human rights and religious freedom. The United States supports a vibrant and prosperous Laos that protects human rights, welcomes civil society, and respects the rule of law. Continued progress in these areas will enable our bilateral relationship to reach its full potential.