Vietnam doesn't have to worry about President Trump's statements on trade issues: AmCham Director

Update: 10:51 | 15/07/2019
TGVN. Sharing with TGVN, Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi (AmCham Hanoi) Adam Sitkoff said that although Vietnam’s longstanding trade surplus with the US has been growing at an unsustainable pace, AmCham and the Goverment of Vietnam coordinate very closely to strengthen the fair and reciprocal trade relations between Vietnam and the US.
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Executive Director of American Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi (AmCham Hanoi) Adam Sitkoff.

Mr. Sitkoff, as someone who always strives to promote the economic and trade cooperation between Vietnam and the US in recent years, how do you assess the prospect of this cooperation in the future?

Our bilateral commercial relationship has seen dramatic growth. What started out 25 years ago with $220 million in annual trade has grown to over $60 billion today. In 1994, Vietnam was America’s 95th largest source of imports. Today, it ranks 12th. The United States remains Vietnam’s largest export market, and Vietnam is one of America’s fastest growing markets worldwide.

Since our founding, AmCham has said that high-quality foreign investors not only help grow Vietnam’s economy, but also help grow the entire ecosystem of local companies and entrepreneurs here. This investment has integrated Vietnam into the global supply chain, created quality jobs, and helped the country become more productive, efficient, safe and cleaner. This year, AmCham celebrates 25 years of working in partnership with our many friends in the government to help improve business conditions that strengthen the private sector and promote economic and social development here.

Today, the United States and Vietnam are close partners - something once thought unimaginable by many people in my country - and American companies and investors are now active in almost every sector of Vietnam’s economy. It is a credit to the people of both nations that we have been able to move beyond the tragedies of our shared past to build such a strong vibrant relationship.

The tremendous economic interests both sides have in maintaining and expanding the relationship make it incumbent upon Hanoi and Washington to develop a vision for the future of the commercial relationship. The business communities in both countries want to be partners in developing this vision for deepening trade and investment ties.

What is your opinion on US President Donald Trump’s statement on Fox Business about Vietnam, even though the Government of Vietnam has been making great efforts to solve the existing problems in the two countries' trade and economic relations?

Vietnam and the United States have developed a healthy trade and investment relationship that has not only created jobs and tax revenues for both countries, but has also enhanced regional security. However, Vietnam’s longstanding trade surplus with the US has been growing at an unsustainable pace. The only countries that have a larger trade surplus with the US than Vietnam are China, Mexico, Japan and Germany – and those are much larger trading partners.

This is a problem, especially given President Trump’s commitment to pursuing fair and reciprocal trade. American companies want to sell more to Vietnam and the Vietnamese government needs to help make that happen.

While Vietnam has endeavored to stick to the letter of the market access commitments it made to the US, it sometimes falls short when it comes to the spirit of those commitments. Inconsistent regulatory interpretation, irregular enforcement, and unclear laws remain significant challenges for many US companies here and AmCham continues to work with our partners in the Vietnamese government to address the areas where inconsistencies, inefficiencies, and unfair practices persist.

In my view, by opening up its market to more US goods and services, Vietnam can help to rectify the growing trade deficit between the two countries in a manner that benefits both countries. I strongly believe that this “win-win” approach is much better than tariffs and other protectionist barriers.

vietnam doesnt have to worry about president trumps statements on trade issues amcham director
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and US President Donald Trump in Hanoi, February 27. (Photo: Tuan Anh)

Do you have any advice for both countries on how to deal with these issues in our trade and economic relations, so as not to let these issues affect the bilateral relations between Vietnam and the US?

The US and Vietnam are not only partners, but they are also friends. Bilateral relations have become increasingly cooperative and comprehensive and I expect the relationship to keep growing stronger. At the same time, we have frequently seen President Trump make worrisome and threatening statements towards many of America’s closest allies.

President Trump is following through on his campaign pledge to fight for fair and reciprocal trade. He believes that past Presidents failed to protect Americans against unfair trade and he has promised to make sure other countries are held accountable. That is why he pushed to renegotiate free trade agreements with countries like Korea, Mexico, and Canada. That is why he is negotiating new agreements with Japan, the EU and the UK. That is also why President Trump has been confronting China’s unfair trade practices, which is something that many business people support.

It was only a few months ago that President Trump praised Vietnam for substantially reducing the trade deficit. He is known to quickly change his mind. Fortunately, many of the statements he makes to the media and many of his tweets do not end up becoming the official policy of the United States. I believe the US-Vietnam relationship will continue to strengthen based upon shared goals. Both countries benefit when both countries succeed and I know the United States supports a strong, independent, and prosperous Vietnam.

How do you assess the prospect of the upcoming US-China negotiations and whether its results will have any significant impact on Vietnam?

I support the President’s effort to convince the Chinese to change their behavior on trade and industrial policy. Ongoing US-China trade tensions have highlighted the risk of concentrating production bases in a single country and are triggering supply chain reorganization. Companies are shifting some production out of China and Vietnam is gaining some of that business.

The question is how Vietnam can fully capitalize on this opportunity in order to continue its rapid upward economic trajectory. I believe the best thing Vietnam can do is to continue reforms that improve the business environment and reduce the risks and burdens that companies face here. Our investors need an equal, level, and predictable playing field as a solid foundation - not only to attract new investment - but also to maintain and grow the investment that is already here. There are many ways to move forward.

For example, investors want to see Vietnam ease tax compliance burdens, continue to invest in infrastructure – especially energy, take a progressive policy approach to unlock the full potential of the digital economy, and more. As major investors here, American companies have an interest in Vietnam’s continued success. That is why I continue to work on lowering barriers to trade, to help the Vietnamese government make it easier to do business, and to create a high-standard, transparent, and stable business environment here.

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(TGVN)