Reflecting on 25 years of US relations

July 10, 2019 | 14:00
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Vietnam and the United States have been boosting their multi-faceted bilateral ties over the past decades. US Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink writes about the thriving bilateral trade and investment and the potential for room to grow as both nations reach the 25th anniversary of diplomatic ties.
reflecting on 25 years of us relations
Daniel Kritenbrink

Trade between the United States and Vietnam touches the lives of our citizens in remarkable ways. From the clothes we wear to the food we eat, and to the electronics products we use every day, the links between our people are strong through the bond of trade. The commitment of our two nations over the past 25 years to work toward free, fair, and reciprocal trade has contributed to the strong friendship and commitment that we enjoy and celebrate today.

Under the economic pillar of President Donald Trump’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, the US and Vietnam have made tremendous progress in strengthening our trade and investment relationship. The president is determined to pursue free and fair trade and investment terms for American businesses, farmers, and workers with all US economic partners, including friends like Vietnam.

Normalising relations between our countries started with a determination from both countries to make change. At the vanguard of this change were two American veterans, Senators John McCain and John Kerry. Because of their unique stature, their bipartisan support was as consequential as it was mindful. If President Bill Clinton opened the door to a new and brighter future between our countries, Senators Kerry and McCain, in many respects, provided the key.

Yet, they are not the only ones who deserve credit. Our friends and partners in the Vietnamese government made President Clinton’s decision more palatable to the American public with their unwavering dedication to helping us with our most sombre and sacred task – recovering the remains of our service members who never returned from the war. For that, we will always be grateful.

Though risky for both sides, the bold actions taken by many in the US and Vietnam in 1995 provided the foundation to improve economic ties and gradually bind our two countries together in the global economy. What started out 25 years ago with almost no two-way trade has grown to nearly $60 billion today.

The momentum grew with the 2001 US-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement and the 2013 US-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership. The 2001 agreement smoothed the path for improved market access and openness between our economies. The comprehensive partnership made trade and commerce the cornerstones of our relationship. In 1994, Vietnam was the US’ 95th largest source of imports. Today, the US is Vietnam’s top export market and Vietnam is the one of the US’ fastest-growing export markets.

The 25-year anniversary of normalised trade relations between the two also arrives against the backdrop of five presidential or prime ministerial visits in a span of only four years.

During President Trump’s 2017 visit, he, along with former President Tran Dai Quang, pledged to deepen and expand bilateral trade and investment, signing $12 billion in new commercial agreements.

When President Trump visited Vietnam a second time in February 2019 for the Hanoi Summit, our leaders signed another $21 billion in commercial deals. All of these deals and commercial agreements are shining examples of where we are right now in our bilateral partnership: we are two proud countries promoting free, fair, and reciprocal trade for mutual benefit and mutual advancement.

We have tremendous respect for Vietnam’s ever-increasing openness and desire to integrate into global value chains. The positive steps taken by the Vietnamese government bring us closer to mutually advantageous policies. Today, US companies such as Nike and General Electric increasingly find a home in Vietnam to manufacture their goods.

Vietnam is open for business, and US companies have noticed. US goods exports to the country continue to expand, growing by 19 per cent in 2018 to $9.8 billion. US consumers also buy more products made in Vietnam, with Vietnam’s exports to the US growing 5.9 per cent and reaching $49.2 billion last year.

Agricultural trade between our countries has been strong and is growing – Vietnam is now our sixth-largest agricultural export market worldwide. In 2018, bilateral agricultural trade was over $8.5 billion, with American exports of wheat, corn, and soybeans supplying Vietnam’s strategic livestock and aquaculture sectors.

Record US cotton and forest product exports are fuelling Vietnam’s growth in the textile and furniture manufacturing sectors. Beginning this year, my American friends in the US can enjoy sweet, delicious mangoes shipped from Vietnam, while my Vietnamese friends can enjoy American blueberries – one of my favourite summertime fruits. Yet there is still great potential for further growth in our agricultural trade.

President Trump has called on Vietnam to reduce the bilateral trade deficit with the US, which totalled $39.5 billion in 2018 and continues to grow. We have spoken forthrightly with our Vietnamese partners about this persistent trade imbalance, and we hope and expect Vietnam to take steps in the near term to address our concerns in a constructive manner.

With US companies offering high-end technologies, goods, and services that are ready for Vietnamese markets, US exports to Vietnam have incredible potential to further reduce the trade deficit. We are particularly focussed on many great opportunities for US energy companies in Vietnam.

This April, Vietnam received its first shipment of American crude oil. With Vietnam’s expected double-digit growth in energy demand, the US and its vast natural gas resources can provide reliable, inexpensive and clean-burning liquefied natural gas (LNG) to fuel Vietnam’s daily electricity consumption and to advance Vietnam’s long-term energy security.

In this market, a US company, AES, has already shown that it is a reliable producer of electricity that is so vital for Vietnam’s growth. We are confident that AES’ proposed Son My LNG terminal and power plant will open the doors to sustained energy partnerships between the US and Vietnam.

Indeed, we are proud of the US private sector’s strong track record in the Indo-Pacific. With American companies, citizens around the world know that what you see is what you get: honest contracts, market-based financial terms, local labour, quality products, and no need for off-the-books mischief.

Reflecting on our 25 years of trade, I am so pleased that together we have forged a relationship that covers agriculture, business, energy, and people-to-people ties. I have spoken with countless US investors and businesses in Vietnam, and they see the development of a prosperous Vietnam as synonymous with their business and economic interests.

With such significant progress over 25 years, now is an opportune time to broaden and deepen our economic and trade partnership. Our fundamental goal is for the US to be an important partner in supporting the development of a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam that contributes to international security, and respects human rights and the rule of law.

May our partnership continue to honour the idea best expressed by American author Edward Hale: “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, but working together is success.”

We came together 25 years ago. Today’s partnership is a testament to the progress we’ve made since then. And I fully expect that, working together for another 25 years, we will make today’s success look like yesterday’s beginning.

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