Hanoi, March 21, 2016
AmCham Governors, business leaders, distinguished guests, good evening. Thank you, Adam for your kind introduction. It is indeed an honor to celebrate with you all again at Amcham’s Gala Dinner.
Tonight is really that – a celebration, and there is much for us all to revel in:
- The fact that we get to live in this beautiful country that I have come to love over the last twenty years.
- The fact that we have developed such great friendships — through our work, through our interactions with the delightful people of Vietnam, and through our involvement in this organization, Amcham.
- And the fact that we get to represent our companies, government and country in one of the most exciting markets in the world.
I know that the original invitation for this evening included an announcement that we would be joined by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and members of the President’s Export Council here tonight.
However, at the last minute, President Obama invited Secretary Pritzker and the Council to travel to Cuba on what is a historic step in the reopening of relations with that country.
I can’t help but think of the parallels that this trip, and the President’s decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, has with our own vibrant relationship with Vietnam, and how far we have come since President Clinton made the same decision back in 1995. But I am not here to reflect on the past. If you have learned anything about me over my 15 months in Vietnam, it is that I would prefer to focus on where we are going much, much more.
As you know it is a dynamic time in Vietnam, and in the ASEAN region as a whole, and while it is nice to gather at such a delightful event as this, to reflect on our efforts and accomplishments of the past year, I will reiterate what I emphasized throughout my recent bike trip from Hanoi to Hue – this is a time to look forward. Not forward just to 2016 or 2017 but forward to the coming years – the next five years, the next ten years and beyond.
We are on the midst of a truly historic time. The TPP agreement is almost a reality and we are becoming partners in a trading block that encompasses 50% of the projected global economic growth. The agreement was signed in New Zealand last month, the first leg in a marathon that will take months to get the agreement to ratification and full implementation. There are some in this room that were part of the TPP process since its inception, and others represent companies that fought for the agreement, and I thank you for your work.
But rather than sit back and celebrate, this is a time to continue our momentum and prepare ourselves for fulfilling its many chapters. If and when the National Assembly ratifies the agreement, then the hard work of implementation begins. The National Assembly will find itself writing new laws and changing old ones. Vietnam’s workforce will need to be trained and equipped with the latest skills to take advantage of future economic opportunities. The government will need to improve and upgrade infrastructure to facilitate greater trade. Small and medium enterprises may require assistance to increase their competitiveness. Vietnam’s leaders will want to promote innovation and partnerships with the private sector to create an entrepreneurial environment and help entrepreneurs link Vietnam with global value chains.
Within the framework of the negotiations and signing of the TPP, we have been able to engage Vietnam through an ongoing dialogue on important issues, such as labor, the investment climate, market access and technical barriers to trade. Despite the successes, many of the challenges facing U.S. exporters and businesses in Vietnam remain. These include issues of transparency, dispute resolution, and protection of intellectual property rights. In order to take full advantage of its increasingly important role in the region’s economic development, the Vietnamese government will need to increase its pace of reform and we are supportive of Vietnam’s efforts in these areas and in its efforts to improve the education system, infrastructure, and governance. Translating the most complex trade agreement with the highest international standards ever negotiated into reality will be difficult and exhausting work. But this is essential to ensure Vietnam receives the enormous benefits of TPP.
Tonight is a great opportunity to highlight the role of the U.S. business community in building a strong, prosperous and independent business climate in Vietnam, and I am continually thankful to the Chamber and its members for their constant input and feedback on how we can work together to carry on that momentum.
As you know, Vietnam’s commitments under TPP are both broad and historic. The onus of TPP implementation clearly rests on the Vietnamese government – and the government appears well-poised to tackle these ambitious challenges.
Rather than review each TPP chapter or delineate Vietnam’s commitments, I’d like to make a simple request to the business community – let’s adopt an attitude of cooperation and help Vietnam implement these ambitious reforms.
The U.S. government and the other TPP members are trying to find the most effective way to encourage Vietnam to reach international standards, but it can’t be just the U.S. government alone. We need your support to ensure that these reforms lead to an even better Vietnam – one where universal worker rights are respected, where Vietnam takes the steps to strengthen the governance of its economy and financial sector, where intellectual property is protected, where the existence of commercial interests within state institutions are reduced, where the environment is protected, and the Vietnamese middle class continues to expand.
So I urge you, in the months and years ahead, to join us and our Vietnamese partners in helping to make sure these reforms are a success.
I was in Washington DC last week and saw President Obama. He is very focused on making progress to make the world safer, more prosperous, and to deal with the enormous challenges that so many people are burdened with around the world. In the Asia Pacific, he is focused on the rebalance, strengthening our alliances, partnering with ASEAN and moving ahead with TPP. He also underscored that it is within our own self-interest to advance the interests of others. This directly applies to us.
The United States is a committed, reliable partner to Vietnam and a friend and supporter of Vietnam’s youthful, dynamic, next generation. And we support Vietnam’s aspirations, which are written into its Constitution and sets the goal of being “a prosperous people and a strong, democratic, equitable and civilized country.”
Every day, we hear from U.S. business community and the importance they place on Vietnam and the future of this country. As a result, this country that has had so much success in the past quarter-century will attain even great accomplishments in the years ahead. It is not just the U.S. government that has been a reliable partner to Vietnam; it has also been Amcham and your member companies. For that I thank you and congratulate you for your excellent collaboration and exemplary work across sectors.
We remain, as always, here to support you, and deeply grateful for all you do. Thank you for the support you provide the embassy team.
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak tonight, please enjoy the evening.