Lào Cai is currently one of the two poorest provinces in the country along with Lai Chau, with more than 70% of the population living under the poverty line. Traditional economic activities such as agriculture and forestry remain important, but the province has also been attempting to develop foreign investment in the area. Cross-border trade with China is also a growing source of income, as is tourism centered on trekking up the peak of Fansipan, Vietnam's highest mountain. Eco tourism is gaining ground. Agriculture and forestry constitute 78.07% of economic activity; fishing and aquaculture 0.04%, mining 1.62%; manufacturing 2.37%, power and water 0.22%, construction 3.29%, repairmen 3.48%; hospitality 0.90%, communications 1.31%; finance 0.21%, science and technology 0.05%;, education and research 3.57%; health and social work 0.69%; cultural activities 0.24% and several other small sectors.
As against the national figure of 7592 cooperatives, there are 19 cooperatives in the province, out of which 17 are agricultural cooperatives and one is a fisheries cooperative. There are only 253 farms as compared to the national number of 120,699. The output value of agriculture produce at constant 1994 prices in the province was 663 billion đồngs against the national value of 156681.9 billion dongs.
In 2008, the province produced 199,800 tonnes of cereals compared to the national production of 43.68 million tonnes. The per capital production of cereals in the province was 491.4 kilograms (1,083 lb) as against the national figure of 331.7 kilograms (731 lb) in 2008.
In 2007, the industrial output of the province was a meager 1916.2 bill. dongs against the national output of 1.47 million billion dongs.
Lào Cai has 150 mines or mining locations of 30 different categories, some of which are the largest of their kind in the country. These include the apatite mine at Cam Đường with 2.5 billion tonnes, the iron mine at Quý Xa with 124