An upcoming visit embodies the astonishing change in bilateral relations between the US and Vietnam.
On February 13, US Secretary of State John Kerry passed on the Obama Administration’s invitation to Party General Sectary Nguyen Phu Trong to visit the US this year. US Ambassador to Vietnam, H.E. Ted Osius, at the Vietnam National University in Hanoi on March 6, said that “we are pleased that Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong will visit the US this year at our invitation. We are confident his visit will help move the Comprehensive Partnership forward. And we expect that the pace of high-level US visitors to Vietnam continues as well, as these visits are also a way to keep an open and frank dialogue about all the issues we face.”
Since the US-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement came into force in 2001, trade between the two countries and US investment in Vietnam have grown dramatically. The US and Vietnam have also concluded a trade and investment framework agreement and signed textile, air transport, and maritime agreements.
Along with other Asia-Pacific nations, the two countries are part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. US exports to Vietnam include agricultural products, machinery, yarn/fabric, and vehicles, while US imports from Vietnam include apparel, footwear, furniture and bedding, agricultural products, seafood, and electrical machinery. US-Vietnam bilateral trade grew from $451 million in 1995 to nearly $35 billion in 2014. US exports to Vietnam were worth $5.5 billion in 2014, and US imports in 2013 were worth $29.7 billion.
Vietnam’s trade with the US rose to $13.38 billion in the first four months of this year, according to a WorldCity analysis of the latest US Census Bureau data. This is 22.96 per cent higher than in the same time period of 2014, with US exports to Vietnam increasing 9.91 per cent while US imports from Vietnam rose 25.82 per cent.
Vietnam ranked 21st among the US’s leading trade partners in the first four months. In the same period last year it ranked 27th. Vietnam’s top US Customs districts for total imports and exports, in order, were Los Angeles, New York City, Atlanta/Savannah, Cleveland, and Chicago, while last year they were Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and Atlanta/Savannah. These top five accounted for 65.62 per cent of Vietnam’s trade to the US.
According to Ambassador Osius, annual trade volumes increased from less than $500 million to $35 billion in the 20 years relations have been normalized, although growth in US imports of Vietnamese goods has been faster than growth of its exports to Vietnam. “Now that we are in the end game of negotiations over the TPP we can anticipate that Vietnam’s participation in the agreement will lead to significant changes in the management of the economy and new trade and investment opportunities as barriers fall,” he said. “With Vietnam in the TPP and with its continued progress toward greater transparency and respect for the rule of law, the US could become its number one investor, as it is in ASEAN as a whole.”
The 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the US and Vietnam is an opportunity to further deepen the two countries’ Comprehensive Partnership, President Truong Tan Sang and President Obama declared in July 2013. “The statement expressed our underlying commitment and forms the touchstone of future US-Vietnam relations as they mature from an energetic and eager but inexperienced phase into a long-lasting partnership solidly grounded in the mutual respect and frank and fruitful interactions typical between friends,” said Ambassador Osius.
As the two sides look to boost their relationship even further in the future, Ambassador Osius has suggested that they adopt a motto for the next 20 years and beyond, based on what the first US Ambassador to Vietnam and a mentor of his, H.E. Pete Peterson, said in January: “Nothing is Impossible.”
Awaiting the future
Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken addressed a press briefing in Ho Chi Minh City on the last day of his four-day trip to Vietnam to prepare for visits by leaders from the two countries this year, including General Secretary Trong’s. Mr. Blinken told local media that the US welcomes the visit and President Obama is waiting to meet him in Washington D.C.
The visit will send a strong message to the world that former war enemies, who once fought each other fiercely and suffered great losses, can still become friends and build partnership relations, Mr. Blinken said.
The US Government now coordinates closely with the Vietnamese Government on a wide range of issues, including climate change, water and food security, human trafficking, and the illegal wildlife trade. Together, the two countries have done much to address global health threats and build sustainable public health systems to ensure global health security. The US and Vietnam have worked together to protect the environment to improve the well-being of all and will soon launch new programs to promote low-carbon, climate change-resilient growth in Vietnam through assistance in energy, forestry, and adaptation planning. The US Government has also worked to help Vietnam improve its education system and especially to boost people-to-people ties through the Fulbright scholarships, university links, and other education and cultural exchanges.
Cooperation between Hanoi and Washington has expanded and deepened in many areas, Mr. Blinken added. The General Secretary’s visit will also create a common vision for the future of the Vietnam-US relationship.
As US Secretary of State John Kerry noted recently on the occasion of Vietnam’s National Day, he “cannot think of two countries that have worked harder to bring themselves together and provide a better future for [their] people.” The American people stand with the people of Vietnam as they, like their dragon and fairy ancestors, soar higher and farther and shine even brighter as one of Asia’s great economic success stories.