Vietnam Economic Times
Vietnam Economic Times

History in the making

If history, whether good or bad, should only be used to look forward to a brighter future, then Vietnamese and American leaders have certainly been on the right path over the last decade.

As celebrations loom to mark 10 years since diplomatic relations were normalised, the June 21 visit to the US by Vietnam''s Prime Minister Phan Van Khai will be interesting not just from a political point of view but also for what it can offer the business communities of the two countries.

The June visit will be the first by a Vietnamese leader to the US, and former US President Bill Clinton’s visit to Vietnam in November 2000 has been the only such visit since the end of the war in 1975. "People in both countries welcome the first-ever visit by a Vietnamese Prime Minister to the US," said Mr Adam Sitkoff, Executive Director of American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Hanoi.

History and the future

The chance for close relations between the two countries first presented itself in 1870, when Vietnam''s Emperor Tu Duc sent his Special Envoy to meet President Ulysses Grant seeking co-operation possibilities. Although opportunities were lost to avert the brutal war in the 60s and 70s, it has thankfully had no bearing on the current renewed relations. Rising two-way trade figures of up to $6.4 billion in 2004 from $1.4 billion in 2001, mainly due to the Vietnam-US Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA) in 2001, is ample evidence that history has been confined to the past. Annual visits by senior officials from both governments over the last few years have cemented the relationship, easing harsh memories and augur well for a bright future. "Head of State visits between the two signal strong bilateral relations and I am pleased that the relationship between Vietnam and the US is going so well," said Mr Sitkoff.

Because of their shared history, though, the relationship is always a sensitive matter and often attracts the attention of international observers with an eye on Vietnam-US links. This partly explains the existence of several disagreements between the two over certain issues. With a great degree of goodwill, both sides are trying to narrow the gap and gradually foster bigger and better business ties. "While there will always be areas of disagreement among nations, bilateral co-operation now exists between Vietnam and the US on many levels that would have been difficult to imagine just a few years ago, including a growing law enforcement and military relationship," said Mr Sitkoff.

All concerned, including AmCham, can be extremely proud of the growing importance of American businesses in Vietnam''s economy over the last decade. Many big names in the US such as Ford, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, FedEx and United Airlines are already on the scene, bringing total US investment to $1.3 billion as at the end of April, according to Vietnam''s Ministry of Planning and Investment. These figures are much more important than disagreements, which are normally seen in every bilateral relationship around the world. "Disagreements still exist between our two countries, but I believe too much is made of these," said Mr Chris Runckel, President of the US-based Runckel & Associates.

With a view to looking at what unites the two countries rather than what divides them, Mr Runckel believes that Vietnam and the US both want a stable, prosperous and independent Vietnam that is well integrated into Southeast Asia and international forums and organisations. Clearly, a growing Vietnam also brings opportunities for the US and its corporate community, and overrides any disagreements. "I''m sure that they vastly outnumber the small number of issues on which we disagree," Mr Runckel said. "Further, even on the issues where we disagree, we continue to consult and negotiate and educate each other. Such is the way of colleagues that appreciate and value each other’s right to freedom and independence."

Greater expectations

While international observers are eyeing Prime Minister Khai''s visit in terms of political and diplomatic ties, the Vietnamese and American business communities are expecting more concrete outcomes. "Some of our members will be participating in the visit, by sharing their success stories to help spread the message that, not only is Vietnam open for business, but that rules have changed so foreign companies can actually be profitable and successful in the Vietnamese market," said Mr Sitkoff. One very positive and favourable response to the Prime Minister''s visit, according to Mr Runckel, who was one of first American diplomats to come to Vietnam in 1995, will be a continued building of interest in Vietnam by Americans in general. "Vietnam has increasingly become an attractive tourist destination because of its stability and its scenic countryside, memorable cities and friendly people," he said, referring to figures showing that North American arrivals to Vietnam in the first quarter of this year now represent 11 per cent of the total.

Significantly, executives at the Seattle-based Boeing Commercial Airplanes are hopeful that the state-run Vietnam Airlines can finalise a deal to buy four Boeing 787s, which the country''s national flag carrier verbally committed to in December 2004. "We do not want to speak on behalf of our customers, but we hope we can do something during the Prime Minister''s visit," said Mr Randy Tinseth, Boeing''s Director of Product and Services Marketing, when he was in Vietnam last month. Sources from the foreign business community in Vietnam told Vietnam Economic Times that the giant US chip maker Intel might possibly reach an agreement with the Vietnamese Government over its planned multi-million dollar investment in the Hoa Lac High-Tech Park. On top of that, trade officials from both sides hope the two may finally ink an agreement that paves the way for Vietnam''s bid to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

"We also strongly support Vietnam''s accession to the WTO, and the attaining of Permanent Normal Trade (PNTR) status from the US, which will mark the completion of a long journey both nations have embarked on to normalise bilateral economic relations," said Mr Sitkoff.

Xuan Son reports.
Vietnam Economic Times - No.136 [ 2005-06-01 ]

Copyright, 2005 © Runckel & Associates
Terms of use

Search our Website by Topics