Tightening Vietnam-US comprehensive partnership

10:30 | 13/08/2015 Cooperation

(VEN) - Vietnam Economic News’ My Phung interviewed Rena Bitter, US Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City to learn about the prosperity of bilateral cooperation and the bright future of comprehensive partnership. This year is the 20 anniversary of normalization of Vietnam-US- diplomatic relations. With the endeavor of the two sides, Vietnam and the US have recorded impressive achievement after two decades.

Tightening Vietnam-US comprehensive partnership

US Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius (left), Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee Deputy Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Hong (middle) and US Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City Rena Bitter (right) celebrate the 239th anniversary of the US Independence Day

How do you think about the achievement of cooperation between Vietnam and the US after 20 years of normalized relations?

Secretary Kerry said it best when he was in Vietnam in 2013. He said, “The two countries have worked harder, done more, and done better to try to bring themselves together and change history and change the future.”

The 20th anniversary is an opportunity to look at how far we’ve come, but also to think about the future. There are many achievements and successes to talk about from the past two decades, which stem from many different areas of our relationship. The visit by Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong is the most recent example of the speed with which our relationship is moving forward.  This was the first visit by a General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam to the US. As President Barack Obama noted at that meeting, “What we’ve seen is a constructive relationship based on mutual respect that has benefited the people of both our countries.”

General Secretary Trong’s visit built on the 2013 visit by President Truong Tan Sang, in which he and President Obama signed the Comprehensive Partnership agreement that identifies nine areas where we are expanding our cooperation. We are proud to say we have made progress together on all of them.  The bilateral relation between the US and Vietnam is deep and broad, and we are now forging a joint vision for the future that builds on this foundation.

Going forward, we expect the relationship to continue to move beyond bilateral cooperation to regional and global cooperation, as Vice Foreign Minister Ha Kim Ngoc urged in January at a conference in Hanoi marking the 20th anniversary. We are already doing so in many areas, particularly climate change, global health, and peacekeeping.  This type of cooperation is the future of the relationship. 

What sectors will be the priority for development cooperation of the two countries in the years to come?

Deepening the trade relationship between our two countries is a top priority. It is also a symbol of how far the US and Vietnam have come.  In 1995, bilateral trade between our two nations was less than US$500 million; today it is more than US$35 billion and growing.  

The US is Vietnam’s largest export market, and American exports to Vietnam continue to grow rapidly. Well-known American companies have opened here, creating jobs in Vietnam, bringing Western management techniques, and giving more choices to Vietnamese consumers. When American companies invest in Vietnam, they don’t just invest in a factory or a store. They invest in their people, too. The training they provide introduces international norms and American business values, which in turn help Vietnam develop a talented workforce that can drive innovation.

American companies also invest through local community engagement. To give just a few examples, Intel and other companies and universities have partnered with the US Agency for International Development and the Vietnamese government to raise the level of engineering education in Vietnam; Microsoft has worked with us to support competitions for students throughout Vietnam; Cargill has built schools in Vietnam and helps train cocoa farmers on how to increase their productivity; companies such as Exxon and FedEx work to increase access to healthcare; and, Coca-Cola helps finance programs to teach skills to women entrepreneurs in the Mekong Delta. 

How can the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) help to promote the trade and investment relations between the two countries?

Vietnam has a tremendous amount to gain from the Trans Pacific Partnership. Collectively, the TPP will bring together 40 percent of the global economy in a rules-based trade architecture that is built on transparency and competition.  Specifically, with regard to trade with the US, we see the completion of the TPP as a sign of Vietnam’s intent to continue the economic reforms that have helped transform the economy over the last 20 years, a trend that has brought tremendous benefits to the Vietnamese people.

Also, the TPP will not only further deepen our economic engagement. It will set high standards that will benefit businesses and workers in Vietnam, in the US, and in all of the other member countries.  Vietnam is already making improvements in its business environment to get ready for the TPP, in many cases with assistance from the US.  This progress is enhancing the business climate and making Vietnam a more attractive destination for US investors.  All of this supports our goal of helping Vietnam become a prosperous country with opportunities for all its citizens to participate in a growing economy.

From your point of view, what are chances and challenges for businesses of the two countries after the TPP is concluded?

We believe that, under the TPP agreement, if you raise the standards with respect to trade, transparency, accountability, and labor standards, everyone will be able to compete effectively. Building a vibrant, innovative economy requires allowing people the opportunity to be creative and take full advantage of the trade and investment ecosystem that the TPP will afford.

US investors coming to Vietnam are looking for a predictable, stable investment environment with transparent processes and clear dispute resolution mechanisms. Even with the TPP’s passage, American businesses will continue to look to local governments to create favorable conditions for success. Companies often reference the Provincial Competitiveness Index, an initiative created between USAID and the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  It assesses the ease of doing business, economic governance, and local government efforts at administrative reform among Vietnam’s 63 provinces, and investors pay close attention to the provinces that are doing well by these standards.

US President Barack Obama received General Secretary of the Communist Party of
Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong at the White House in Washington D. C on July 7, 2015. Photo: VNA

Education is one of the key sectors of cooperation between the two countries.  How can we further promote this cooperation in the years to come? Will the US provide more scholarships for Vietnam students to help train high-qualified human resources and develop young generation?

Our cooperation on education stands as one of the true success stories of the bilateral relationship. In 1995, just 800 students from Vietnam studied in the US. Today, Vietnam ranks eighth in the world with almost 17,000 students at US universities.  We also sponsor Vietnamese students to study in the US through programs such as Fulbright exchanges, the Vietnam Education Foundation, and other programs.  Many US  universities are also eager to recruit Vietnamese students, and in some cases, they make scholarships available to make this easier.  Our EducationUSA advising service in Diamond Plaza is the place to go for more information on these opportunities.

With Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) breaking ground this year, we are taking our cooperation in the field of education to an even higher level.  As Vietnam’s first private, not-for-profit university, Fulbright University will serve as a model for the type of institution that has made American higher education the best in the world.  Drawing on US practices and the specific conditions of Vietnam, FUV aims to become a model of academic independence, meritocracy, transparency, and equal access.  Not only will the university students benefit, but the entire educational system will be able to draw from Fulbright University’s example. We want Fulbright University to not just be the best university in Vietnam, but we want it to be one of the best in the world. 

People-to-people links make the two countries understand better the culture of each other. Can you brief good results brought by this exchange channel?

As President Obama said, people-to-people ties are the glue that holds a bilateral relationship together. I have already mentioned the tremendous success we have had in attracting Vietnamese students to the US.  When there, they not only get a great education, but they also learn about the US.  In turn, their unique perspectives and viewpoints enrich our classrooms.  By being in the States, they teach Americans about Vietnam and when they return, they will teach their Vietnamese friends about us.  Going forward, I would also like to see more American students come to Vietnam because I believe they will have a similarly rich experience that they will take back to America.

We also have a host of other unique programs that facilitate cooperation on subjects like science and technology, climate change, health and a variety of topics.  In these programs, experts exchange ideas and gather information to increase our connections and our ability to work together on regional challenges. Our American centers in Ho Chi Minh City and in Hanoi are also great places to facilitate these ties.  We run a range of programs and activities to help Vietnamese people learn about educational opportunities in the US, learn about American history and culture, improve their English, even take courses online.  All of this directly supports the growth in people-to-people ties.

There is a lot of goodwill to build on.  A recent survey indicated that 78 percent of Vietnamese have a positive view of the US. This number rises to 88 percent for people under the age of 30. I think that statistic underscores that people in both our countries want to see relations grow and strengthen, and want to get to know each other better.


My Phung

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