By Kathy Kemper
Published on 8/4/2008
Hoi An, Vietnam August 4, 2008 — There’s a buzz about Vietnam, and I’m not talking about 24 million mo-ped engines. Vietnam is hot, and the word is spreading fast. Continuing my tour of Southeast Asia en route to the Olympics, I see a country that’s vibrant and pushing itself to become an open market economy. Ho Chi Minh wouldn’t recognize it.
Three decades ago, devastated by war, it was one of the world’s poorest countries. Today, it’s one of the biggest exporters of farm produce and the site of a flood of foreign investment — Intel will soon be opening a $1 billion microchip factory here.
No wonder The Economist praised its “rags to riches” story in a recent issue.
Vietnam’s economic boom has caught Beijing’s attention. Its economy is growing at more than 8% a year. Although its future seems bright for now, its long-term success will depend on how well it can follow China’s dual track: pursue economic liberalization without embarking on political liberalization. Vietnam has 85 million people, only three million of whom are members of the Communist Party, so it’ll be interesting to see whether it can do so.
For now, though, it’s taking all the right steps. Vietnam has shown a commitment to increased market access for American goods and services, to regulatory transparency, and to enhance economic freedoms. Americans applaud this new and growing relationship. As every free-trading country knows, you have to make some sacrifices if you wish to be a global player — whether it’s accepting stronger safety regulations or enforcing intellectual property rights. Vietnam joined ASEAN in 1995, signed a free trade pact with America in 2000, and joined the WTO in 2007, so it’s clearly willing to do what’s necessary to make it in the capitalist world.
With this success story in mind, it’s unfortunate that the Doha talks in Geneva stalled this week. U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab concluded that “While we made good progress during the past week, it is clear that despite our best efforts we will not be able to reach a breakthrough at this time. And throughout these negotiations, the United States has been strongly committed and willing to make the tough choices necessary to achieve an ambitious breakthrough.”
I remain optimistic that disagreement between the world’s rookie capitalists and veteran capitalists will be resolved. Established economies like the US and the EU experienced some of the same challenges that countries like Vietnam are facing now, so it’s important for the big guys to be patient and even make concessions to form strong relationships. But we’re getting there — if former communist countries like Vietnam are entering trade talks and embracing capitalism, we may be in for a greater period of global prosperity than we’ve ever seen.
Kathy Kemper is founder and CEO of the Institute for Education, a nonprofit foundation, headquartered in Washington, D.C., U.S.A, that recognizes and promotes leadership and civility locally, nationally and in the world community.