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US Commerce Secretary Leads Trade Mission to Vietnam

  • Matt Steinglass

United States Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez is leading a trade mission of 22 American companies to Vietnam - the first since Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization. American businesses are eager to ramp up investment in Vietnam. Matt Steinglass reports from Hanoi.

Trade between the United States and Vietnam rose from $1.5 billion in 2001 to $9.7 billion last year - a trend that both sides want to see continue.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said the business leaders on his trip want to invest more in Vietnam, and to remove hurdles to investing in the Vietnamese economy fast.

"The big issue that companies have brought forward is that they would like things to move faster," he said. "The bright side is that they all want to invest."

The companies participating in the trade mission include manufacturing giants such as ALCOA, Ford, and Dow Chemical, in fields ranging from electronics to energy and tourism.

Adam Sitkoff, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi, said that while Americans want to invest in Vietnam, the decisions necessary to smooth the way sometimes come slowly, especially on improving Vietnam's infrastructure.

"The American business community views Vietnam as the most exciting emerging marketplace in the world," he said. "It's not just American companies that think that Vietnam needs to move forward more quickly on key infrastructure projects. Vietnamese people think that Vietnam needs to move forward more quickly on key infrastructure projects."

Manufacturing companies are worried that Vietnam's inadequate ports, roads and railways may be jammed by the country's exploding exports.

The United States runs a large and growing trade deficit with Vietnam. Gutierrez said the way to reduce that was to raise U.S. exports by demanding market access in Vietnam.

"We don't want to reduce the trade deficit by limiting imports into the U.S. We believe that that backfires, and that isn't good for the economy," he said.

U.S. fears that rising Vietnamese textile exports would harm industry led the United States to impose a program last year to monitor Vietnamese textile imports for dumping. Gutierrez said that program would extend through the end of the Bush administration.

This trade mission of 22 companies is the first from the United States to Hanoi since Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization in January. Vietnam has one of the world's fastest-growing economies after China, expanding at more than eight percent a year.

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