Vietnam’s Free Trade Agreements – Opportunities for Your Business

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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.

Vietnam's free trade agreementsFTAs – The benefits

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 valued-added production. An example of this is the recently launched VSmart phone manufactured by Vietnamese conglomerate Vingroup.

Vietnam is touted as a low-cost manufacturer with several companies such as Samsung and Nokia setting up shop to manufacture and then export electronics, but the latest example shows how Vietnam can develop its own products from the transfer of know-how technology.

Such sophisticated business practices and technology will help boost Vietnamese labor productivity and expand the country’s export capacity.

With upcoming trade agreements like the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Vietnam – EU (EVFTA) – Vietnam seems to prioritize international trade integration trade partners outside ASEAN.

Once in effect, 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’s (ILO) standards. Chan Lee from the ILO noted that this is an opportunity of 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.

If local firms do not adapt, make use of new market opportunities and potential partnerships with foreign firms – they could find competing in the market challenging.

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.


About Us

Vietnam Briefing is produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. The firm assists foreign investors throughout Asia from offices across the world, including in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Readers may write to vietnam@dezshira.com for more support on doing business in Vietnam.

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