Ambassador Kritenbrink Remarks: AmCham Annual Gala Dinner

Saturday, May 19, 2018
JW Marriott, Hanoi

Thank you, Linh, for that kind introduction, and thank you Adam for including me in this wonderful evening to celebrate AmCham and its members.

Thank you also to His Excellency, Minister Mai Tiến Dũng, for joining us. The U.S.-Vietnamese relationship is a partnership, and I view the U.S. business community as an important component of that relationship, so I am honored that you could be with us this evening.

I also want to thank so many of you in this room for sharing with me your counsel, insight, expertise, and experience over the last six months, since my arrival to Vietnam. This country has a rich culture, dynamic economy, and complex political structure, and your suggestions and guidance allowed me to better understand both the opportunities that our two nations must seize, as well as the obstacles we must overcome. 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 than with any other group. Your concerns are my concerns, and I am glad to support you and to have had your support in return.

As many of you may know, I am a proud citizen of the state of Nebraska, and I want to give a special welcome to Josh Moenning, Mayor of the city of Norfolk, Nebraska. The mayor has a ranch in Madison County, a region famous for its cattle industry. In fact, the beef tonight was flown in from Nebraska, and I certainly want to thank the Nebraska Beef Council for bringing this dinner and the mayor to this event. U.S. beef is one of our fastest growing exports to Vietnam, with sales last year at over $60 million dollars. That’s a lot of cows. In fact, it is 33 percent more beef than the previous year. Although I want that number to keep going up, Adam has requested that you not ask for seconds tonight.

The theme for this evening is “Movers and Shakers.” And as I just mentioned my own origins, let me start my comments with the “Movers.”

Many of you attending tonight are far away from home, having moved to Vietnam from the four corners of the globe. We all moved here with different organizations and different job titles, but what we have in common, a trait I share, is a strong belief in the transformative role that U.S. businesses can have on the development of Vietnam. From your managerial practices and technologies to your service standards and your ethics, you affect your communities in many positive ways. And I particularly appreciate that many of you have shared that you are here for the long-term, committed to this country. While these qualities seldom make the headlines, they all validate the importance of your work in Vietnam.

There are several other notable “movers” I’d like to mention. Our exports to Vietnam are on the move. The statistic I mentioned earlier, regarding U.S. beef, is reflective of our expanding trade relationship with Vietnam. Over the last decade, U.S. exports to Vietnam increased 330 percent. That is, by far, the best performance from any of the top 50 markets that we export to.

Mayor Moenning, you will be happy to know that Vietnam continues to be one of U.S. agriculture’s fastest growing overseas buyers. Over the last 20 years, Vietnam has gone from our 96th largest market for U.S. agricultural products to becoming a top-10 market.

Vietnam is moving too. Over the last two years, Vietnam moved up 23 places to rank 68 among 190 countries in the World Bank’s Doing Business report, demonstrating that the steps Vietnam’s leadership is taking are positively affecting the business environment.

Finally, the leaders of our two countries are moving, regularly crossing the globe to engage each other in Hanoi and in Washington. In the short period I have been here, we have hosted President Trump, former Secretary of State Tillerson, U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer, and Secretary of Defense Mattis, not to mention the USS CARL VINSON, the first aircraft carrier to visit Vietnam’s shores since the cessation of hostilities between our nations.

Tomorrow, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Gerrish arrives to continue moving forward on our trade agenda, and next month Deputy Prime Minister Hue will visit the United States on a trip that is almost entirely focused on trade and investment, providing the next key opportunity to resolve market barriers and potentially conclude commercial agreements. The fact that he invited AmCham leadership to meet with him earlier this month demonstrates his openness to your concerns as well as your ideas on how to maximize the effectiveness of this visit.

Enough about the “Movers” – let’s talk about the “Shakers.”
The “shakers” are those of you in this very room who will not accept the policies and hindrances that keep your firms from competing on a level playing field. Over the last six months, we have tackled together issues like Decree 116, which has upended the automotive market in Vietnam. Working with industry, my team and I continue to address this with Vietnamese government officials. While we have not reached a perfect solution, we have made progress, and automotive imports have resumed. We have also worked on challenges confronting sections such as pharmaceuticals, medical devices, electronic payment systems, cyber security requirements, and trade facilitation. Your members voiced increasing dissatisfaction with perceived support for local protectionism in both laws and policy, as well as frustration with increased tax and customs audits. The list might seem long, but it is not insurmountable. Together we can shake things up and ensure that industry’s voice is not just heard, but actually taken as sage counsel.

Finally, I’d like to mention the real “shakers” who this evening is about – the Vietnamese students that will benefit from tonight’s activities. First, let me say Vietnam’s bright and industrious youth are a force in our trade relationship. There are now over 31,600 Vietnamese young people studying in the United States. They are responsible for consuming over $800 million in services, adding to our more than one-billion-dollar trade in services surplus. And Mr. Mayor, there are 239 Vietnamese students in Nebraska, bringing diversity and new ideas to the campuses where they study. Closer to home, I was delighted to join AmCham in December in recognizing its AmCham Scholars, 20 outstanding college students who will lead their generation. I had a chance to meet with the finalists that day, and I can tell you that Vietnam’s population of young entrepreneurs is ready to shake things up. Through this program, these students will further empower themselves, benefiting from internships, exposure to your companies, and participation in AmCham activities throughout the year. I have no doubt that you will give them the opportunity to empower your firms as well. Thank you for joining us tonight to help support the next cohort of “shakers.”

Let me close by saying that Vietnam is clearly a country that is on the move. It doesn’t matter if you are a Mover or a Shaker, or likely both; we all find something compelling about the direction this nation is heading and the role that each of us – our companies, our organizations – can have on its development and progress. I wish you all a lively celebration of your achievements this evening, and hope to see some moving and shaking on the dance floor later. And I hope that as we draw nearer to the summer, when many of you return home for some much-needed rest, that you will return reinvigorated and ready to move our commercial relationship forward.

Thank you.