Ambassador Kritenbrink Remarks: U.S. – Vietnam Business Summit

Friday, May 10, 2019
Sheraton Hanoi Hotel, Hanoi

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Thank you to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the American Chamber of Commerce for your support in organizing today’s event.

I am pleased to be joined by [Vietnamese VIPs]. I also want to welcome the [VIPs/ speakers from outside Vietnam].

It is fitting we are together today, with a broad representation of the business community and government officials, to discuss the future of the bilateral economic and trade relationship. We are looking forward to hearing the recommendations from the Chamber’s White Paper, and their suggested framework to increase trade and investment between the United States and Vietnam. It is a relationship that has seen dramatic economic developments in recent years and will continue to grow.

What started out 25 years ago with $220 million in annual trade has grown to roughly $60 billion today. 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.

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. And we are excited about continuing this trend through further high-level visits this year, which will in turn set the stage for what I expect will be some great 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 for years, there have been no commercial sales until today. I’d like to congratulate Bell and their partners on this agreement. This is a sign of even greater cooperation yet to come.

All of these deals are shining representations of where we are right now in our bilateral relationship: two countries, promoting free, fair and reciprocal trade for mutual benefit and mutual advancement.

I think we would all agree that the time is right 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 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, 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-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.

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.

And, of course, we are particularly focused on 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, because Vietnam really needs the additional electricity, and the United States can be a reliable and inexpensive exporter of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).
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 better 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, 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.

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.

And, the Embassy 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 than with any other group. Let me conclude by saying that I will remain committed to you and to our continued partnership with Vietnam. The government – the leaders here today – have, time and again, been open and willing to hear your voices, and I trust that will continue. Your concerns are my concerns, and I am glad to support you and to have had your support in return.

Thank you and I wish you a wonderful event today.