Oregonian business news
Global trade - A delegation visits Portland just as the nation is to join the World Trade Organization


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

RICHARD READ, The Oregonian Newspaper


Members of a Vietnamese business delegation, speaking in Portland 30 years after their nation's reunification, never mentioned the war with the United States. Neither did a Portland State University audience on Monday, the eve of Vietnam's entry into the World Trade Organization.

Both sides were far too busy discussing trade, investment and educational exchange. Vietnam -- with Asia's second-fastest-growing economy, trailing only China -- is suddenly the talk of global trade. Twelve years after the United States dropped its trade embargo of Vietnam, the nation of 84 million is following other Asian nations as an economic dynamo with surging exports and investment.

President Bush plans to visit Hanoi for an Asia Pacific economic summit meeting Nov. 18-19. Congress is about to consider granting permanent normal trade relations to the former U.S. adversary. And economic analysts are beginning to describe Vietnam as the next China, although on a far smaller scale.

"They've actually moved much faster than China did," said Christopher Runckel, Portland-based chairman of the U.S.-Vietnam Chamber of Commerce, "in terms of opening up their economy and making it easier for investors."

Thirty-one years after the frantic U.S. evacuation from Saigon, the war is history in Vietnam, where most people aren't old enough to remember it. In the United States these days, Vietnam comes up most often in comparison to U.S. involvement in Iraq.

Three decades from now, Iraq would do well to match the economic position of Vietnam, which is expected to gain approval today to become the World Trade Organization's 150th member. Membership will boost Vietnam's access to foreign markets and require it to cut tariffs and subsidies.

For Oregon, Vietnam is a growing business partner. Vietnamese workers make almost one-third of Nike footwear. Much of the state's exports to Vietnam, which have almost doubled in four years to a record $49 million, consist of the Oregon-made air soles installed in those shoes. OIA Global Logistics, the Portland company that arranges shipments of those inflated bags, has a joint venture, TriMax JV Co. Ltd., that cuts logistical costs for Vietnam's state-run garment and textile companies. "We help the government of Vietnam compete globally through consolidating their purchases for logistics," said Dan McMorris, marketing and sales director for OIA, a Yoshida Group company.

Intel, Oregon's largest private employer, is building a $300 million semiconductor assembly-and-test factory in Ho Chi Minh City. The plant -- expected to employ 1,200 workers after opening in 2008 -- will cut up wafers such as those made in Oregon, packing chips for sale.

"The willingness to do business and make it work is a key factor" in locating such plants, said Bill Calder, Intel spokesman, "and we found that in Vietnam."

Even after the era of harsh re-education camps that punished former South Vietnamese officials, Hanoi often saved plum jobs for northern loyalists. But the trade delegation that visited Portland on Monday was led by officials native to the southern Binh Duong area they represent.

Tran Van Lieu, who heads the Binh Duong Industrial Park Authority, outlined two modern commercial zones just north of Ho Chi Minh City, one with housing, shopping and other amenities. Vo Son Dien, Becamex IDC Corp. advisory and marketing director, said his company could enter partnerships with foreign investors. Runckel, the chamber chairman and a former U.S. diplomat who works as an international consultant, equated Binh Duong province to Shanghai. Both economic hubs have produced national political leaders.

Portland State University, which hosted the delegation's appearance, is involved in research and training projects in Vietnam. PSU President Daniel Bernstine noted Vietnam's torrid 8.4 percent economic growth.

"Vietnam," Bernstine said, "is set for the world stage."


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