Lao PDR has extensive export controls on its staple food, glutinous rice, which keep domestic prices low relative to international prices. Using price, harvest, and export data this paper analyses how glutinous rice prices in Laos PDR are related to those in its trading partners, Thailand and Vietnam. We find that rice prices in Lao PDR are more likely to rise following a good harvest year than a bad or a normal year. This is consistent with export controls being relaxed after good harvests, leading to an increase in exports early in the season and rising prices later as stocks are depleted. There is thus a case for removal of trade restrictions since they give rise to price spikes while keeping the long‐term price of glutinous rice low, and thereby hinder increases in income from agriculture. However, since high rice prices are likely to affect the poor negatively in the short to medium term, a combination of an export tax and cash transfers is recommended during the transition period. Although this is a case study of Lao PDR, the findings may equally apply to other developing countries that export their staple food.