- Vietnam has used its participation in international free trade agreements as an instrument to ensure increased economic power and financial security.
- Vietnam hasn’t shied from participating and looking at free trade agreements beyond ASEAN and at the international community to fuel its growth as shown recently by the EVFTA and the UKVFTA.
- Nevertheless, challenges remain as Vietnam will need to embark on further domestic reforms to ensure it can remain competitive.
Free trade agreements (FTAs) are when two or more countries agree on the terms of trade between them. They determine the value of tariffs and duties that countries impose on imports and exports. In 2007, with Vietnam’s ascension into the World Trade Organization (WTO) – it took a significant step integrating with world trade and subsequently entering into several free trade agreements.
Over the past few years, Vietnam has been active in signing bilateral trade agreements with countries throughout the world. Additionally, due to its membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Vietnam has become a party to several FTAs that the regional trade bloc has signed.
The benefits of the free trade agreements will enable Vietnam’s economic development to continue to shift away from exporting low-tech manufacturing products and primary goods to more complex high-tech goods like electronics, machinery, vehicles, and medical devices.
This can be done in two ways – first, through more diversified sourcing partners through larger trade networks and cheaper imports of intermediate goods from partner countries, which should boost the competitiveness of Vietnam’s exports.
Second – through partnership with foreign firms that can transfer the knowledge and technology needed to make the jump into higher value-added production. An example of this is the recently launched VSmart phone manufactured by Vietnamese conglomerate Vingroup.
Such sophisticated business practices and technology will help boost Vietnamese labor productivity and expand the country’s export capacity.
With recent trade agreements such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), EU-Vietnam FTA (EVFTA), UK-Vietnam FTA (UKVFTA) in effect, and the upcoming Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) – Vietnam seems to prioritize international trade integration trade partners outside ASEAN.
Such trade agreements will allow Vietnam to take advantage of the reduced tariffs, both within the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and with the EU and US to attract exporting companies to produce in Vietnam and export to partners outside ASEAN.
The EVFTA Report 2018 by the European Chamber of Commerce (EuroCham) in Vietnam revealed that 72 percent of EuroCham members believed that the EVFTA will make Vietnam more competitive and turn it into a hub for European businesses.
Vietnam’s entry into these trade deals will also ensure alignment with national standards ranging from employee rights to environmental protection. Both the CPTPP and EVFTA require Vietnam to conform to the International Labor Organization (ILO) standards. Chan Lee from the ILO noted that this is an opportunity for Vietnam to modernize its labor laws and industrial relations systems.
Challenges posed by FTAs
The FTAs may also come with some added downsides. Such agreements are likely to trigger aggressive competition from foreign rivals on local businesses – particularly in the agriculture sector including meat and dairy products from the EU, Australia, and Canada.
The Vietnamese government would also need to continue on its path of reforms – strengthening the banking sector, removing corruption, refining legal and tax structures, and improving trade facilitation.
Future growth from FTAs
Vietnam’s Ministry of Planning and Investment forecast that the CPTPP could increase Vietnam’s GDP by 1.3 percentage points by 2035, while the EVFTA could boost GDP by 15 percent. These trade deals along with already signed and upcoming FTAs are likely to ensure that Vietnam remains competitive in the short-to-medium term.
Choosing a professional service to evaluate FTAs for your business
Finding one’s way through the legalese that many of these FTAs use to spell out their rules and regulations can often be cumbersome. This often is one of the most cited reasons why businesses fail to take advantage of the benefits available to them. Therefore, it is strongly suggested that businesses and investors consult with a professional service with strong experience in the region. This will allow a business to have a reliable, and clear source of information before making an investment.
Note: The article was first published in May 2015 and has been updated to include the latest developments.