Speech by Ambassador Daniel J. Kritenbrink at U.S. – Vietnam Business Summit

Speech by Ambassador Daniel J. Kritenbrink
U.S. – Vietnam Business Summit
Sheraton Hanoi Hotel
Friday, May 10, 2019, 9:00 a.m.

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. It’s an honor to be here today. I want to thank you to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the American Chamber of Commerce here in Hanoi for your support in organizing today’s Business Summit.

I’m truly honored to be joined this morning by Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Trịnh Đình Dũng, my good friend Standing Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bùi Thanh Sơn, and of course, VCCI Chairman Dr. Vũ Tiến Lộc.

I’m also pleased to be join by many American friends here today, and I want to recognize first and foremost, Charles Freeman, Senior Vice President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a good friend Natasha Ansell, Chair of AmCham Hanoi, another good friend from AmCham Hanoi, Adam Sitkoff, and my good friend Amanda Rasmussen, Chair of AmCham Ho Chi Minh City here with us today as well.

I truly do think it is fitting we are all gathered here together today, with a broad representation of the business community and government officials, to discuss the future of the U.S.-Vietnam economic and trade partnership. We are looking forward to hearing the recommendations from the Chamber’s important White Paper, and their suggested framework to increase trade and investment between our two great countries. It is a relationship that has seen dramatic economic developments in recent years, and I’m confident those will continue for years to come.

What started out 25 years ago with $220 million in annual trade has grown to roughly $60 billion today. That’s an extraordinary success. In 1994, Vietnam was America’s 95th largest source of imports. Today, it ranks 12th. The United States is now Vietnam’s largest export market, and Vietnam is one of America’s fastest growing markets worldwide.

There is no doubt, the U.S.-Vietnam bilateral trade relationship is enjoying a rising tide, advanced by five Presidential or Prime Ministerial visits in the span of just four years. The U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership is strong than ever. You need look no further than the Hanoi Summit in February, President Trump’s second visit to Vietnam for proof of that fact. And we are excited about continuing this trend through further high-level visits this year. I’m confident that that in turn will set the stage for next year’s momentous activities in 2020 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties.

We have already made great progress this year, with the $21 billion in commercial signings witnessed by President Trump and President Trong in February. But you may not be aware that, as we sit here right now, another milestone is being celebrated, as Bell Helicopters and their local partner, Vietnam Helicopter Company, commission their first two aircraft for tourism in Halong Bay. While there have been American helicopters in Vietnam in recent years, there have been no commercial sales until today. I’d like to congratulate Bell and their partners on this agreement. I think this is just one sign of the even greater cooperation yet to come.

All of these deals and commercial signings 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.

I think we would all agree that now is the right time to broaden and deepen our economic and trade partnership, and to elevate conversations about the comprehensive economic relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam. Along that line of thinking, it is also important for those conversations to be open and honest. Let’s be sure that we are walking in lockstep to ensure the mutual prosperity that will result from the free and fair flow of goods between our two countries.

We, of course, have tremendous respect for Vietnam’s ever-increasing openness. We applaud the steps the Vietnamese Government has taken to refine its policymaking process. And we, the United States, as your partner, urge you to maintain a predictable investment and tax environment not just for Americans, but for all foreign companies.

We are eager to partner with Vietnam as it pursues its digital economy goals. We and our world-class leading tech companies stand ready to provide our expertise as you develop exciting emerging technologies like e-payments, online streaming, artificial intelligence, and smart cities. We look forward to providing input as you draft new policies to protect data privacy and maintain cybersecurity.

At the same time, we here in Vietnam, as well as our colleagues in Washington, are watching for positive progress on several market-access issues that our leaders discussed in February, such as Decree 116 on autos, agriculture trade, and electronic payments.

Of course, we are particularly focused on many great opportunities as well, including the great potential for U.S. energy companies, such as AES Corporation, to invest in Vietnam’s energy infrastructure. AES has already shown that it is a reliable producer of electricity that is so vital for Vietnam’s growth. I am confident that their proposed Son My LNG terminal and power plant will be equally successful. That project can be a great win-win outcome, because Vietnam truly needs the additional electricity, and the United States can be a reliable and inexpensive exporter of Liquefied Natural Gas.
Vietnam is in the midst of remarkable economic expansion – seven percent growth last year, with expectations that 2019 will see similar numbers. This is driven by many factors, but one key ingredient has been the policies Vietnam has adopted to attract foreign direct investment.

Let’s look for a moment at that FDI. Last year, 76% of all FDI into Vietnam went into three sectors: manufacturing, real estate, and retail trade. Those are certainly important growth areas, but I think Vietnam could help ensure its long-term growth if it could be equally attractive for FDI into a fourth sector: Infrastructure.

According to the Global Infrastructure Outlook, Vietnam will need over $600 billion to reach its infrastructure goals for 2040. No government has this amount of money. Countries that rely on state-dominated funding for development will come up short by crowding out the high-quality private-sector investment their economies need most.
To address that gap, President Trump’s Indo-Pacific Strategy aims to unleash the power of the private sector, which can access the $70 trillion in private capital located in the world’s financial centers.

Only if countries welcome private investment into priority sectors, such as infrastructure, will those trillions of dollars get off the sidelines and into their economies. And that infrastructure is absolutely vital to support and build the productive enterprises that create jobs and prosperity.

We are proud of the U.S. 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 labor, and no need for off-the-books mischief.

For the U.S. Mission in Vietnam, our efforts are already targeted toward empowering private sector-led development and creating opportunities for U.S. businesses.

My colleagues in the Economic Section of the U.S. Mission engage with Vietnam to simplify the regulatory environment and reduce barriers to trade and investment.

My friends here in the Foreign Agricultural Service and the Commercial Service help U.S. exporters enter the Vietnamese market and sell U.S. products.

USAID provides development assistance for market-oriented reform and trade facilitation, including implementing a program to reinvigorate the Public-Private-Partnership business model here in Vietnam.

And, all of us at the U.S. Mission will continue to support Vietnam’s efforts to complete a legal framework for attracting private investment, hopefully in 2020.

I spend more of my time engaged on trade and investment issues than on any other topic, and more of my time meeting with businesses community than with any other constituency. I’m proud of that. I will remain committed to you and to our continued partnership with Vietnam. The Vietnamese government – the leaders here today – have, time and again, been open and willing to hear your voices, to address our concerns, and to work with us to seize opportunities. I’m very grateful to them for that. That’s what makes this tremendous partnership work. And I am confident that this partnership will continue to grow. I’m optimistic of the future of the U.S.-Vietnam partnership and economic and trade relationship.

For my friends in the U.S. business community, your concerns are my concerns. And I am glad to support you as we work together toward our common goal and that is a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam. All of us here today are invested in Vietnam’s success, and we look forward to working with you to make that a reality.

Thank you and I wish you a wonderful event today.