|After a slow start, the CPTPP is now hoped to benefit Vietnam more |
After two years of implementation, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) has created some positive initial impacts, especially in new markets, but benefits for Vietnam from remain modest.
Nguyen Cam Trang, deputy director of the Agency of Foreign Trade under the Ministry of Industry and Trade, said that the growth rate of exports to CPTPP markets was 7.2 per cent lower than the 8.4 per cent growth rate of exports worldwide in the same period.
There is very little information about the effects and impacts of the CPTPP on foreign-invested enterprises (FIEs), what they know about this agreement, and how to take advantage of it, as well as what is preventing them from accessing what is considered significant opportunities from the agreement.
In Vietnam, the effectiveness of the CPTPP depends partly on estimates and actions of foreign direct investment (FDI). Nguyen Thi Thu Trang, director of the WTO and International Trade Centre under the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), noted differences in understanding the legal framework between domestic enterprises and FIEs. Meanwhile, the latter accounts for the highest proportion in imports and exports, with special relations regarding issues of investment protection and openness as well as methodical policy and legal matters.
“The biggest reason why Vietnamese businesses have not taken advantage of the incentives from this trade agreement is that they do not know about the tariff incentives under the CPTPP,” Trang said.
The CTTPP is an ambitious agreement that covers every important aspect of trade and investment. During the first period of implementation, FDI flowing into Vietnam has witnessed increases after a quiet period observing US-China trade tensions in 2019, as well as shifts in supply and production chains towards diversification.
In both trends, the inflow of FDI is expected to increase, especially in East Asia and Southeast Asia. The CPTPP is thus considered to be a favourable factor for the overall FDI attraction process. However, the results of attracting FDI during this period did so far not seem to reflect the trends.
Several problems have been identified from this unexpected fact. In 2019, Vietnam attracted approximately $9.5 billion in registered FDI from CPTPP countries, down nearly 36 per cent compared to 2018. While the total registered capital decreased, the number of new projects increased by 13 per cent compared to 2018, according to data from the Ministry of Planning and Investment.
The average size of new foreign-invested projects from CPTPP countries also fell sharply in 2019, from nearly $11 million per project in 2018 to about $4.7 million in 2019, down 56.9 per cent.
In terms of each partner, investment from Japan into Vietnam had the deepest drop in value from nearly $9 billion in 2018 to just over $4 billion in 2019, equivalent to a downfall of 52 per cent. In terms of speed, FDI decreased sharply from traditional sources such as Australia (down nearly 63 per cent) and Malaysia (down 50 per cent) as well as other markets.
Overall, 2019 was a year for Vietnam that seemed to be less optimistic in terms of attracting FDI through the CPTPP. While FDI from private CPTPP sources fell overall by nearly 36 per cent, newly attracted FDI from private CPTPP sources decreased by even over 61 per cent.
However, the results of attracting investment from CPTPP partners in 2020 were more positive than in 2019, as the Ministry of Planning and Investment recorded $11.8 billion last year.
Trang hoped that the government can make appropriate adjustments in a number of aspects to commit to all business sectors, supporting potential opportunities from the CTTPP that could become more feasible for investors.
However, it is the increase in FDI from the CPTPP in 2020 that has resulted in differing opinions. Some analysts think it is necessary to take a cautious look at the increase in FDI from CPTPP countries in 2020 as it seems to be overblown by comparison with the declines of 2019.
Others argue that the CPTPP and other free trade agreements are contributing to creating Vietnam’s own FDI attraction with transfers from China under the influence of the global health crisis.
CPTPP members, including Australia and Vietnam, have responded to the pandemic by fulfilling commitments to rules-based trade and maintaining open, informative, and transparent supply chains.
David Gottlieb, counsellor for economics and development cooperation of the Australian Embassy in Vietnam, commented that COVID-19 “present the global economy with an array of unprecedented challenges including to the principles of free and open trade.”
“But this crisis has demonstrated the importance of cooperation and strong trading relationships,” Gottlieb said at last week’s Hanoi-based CPTPP conference backed by the Aus4Reform programme aimed to support Vietnam’s reform efforts. “CPTPP members, including Vietnam and Australia, have responded to the crisis by demonstrating our commitment to rule-based trade and by maintaining open supply chains, active communication and transparency.