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'Made in Vietnam' export boom defies Trump's trade threats

Dec 27 2017 11:02
Nguyen Dieu Tu Uyen, Bloomberg

Hanoi - From mobile phones to furniture, Vietnam’s export boom shows no signs of losing steam, defying a gloomy outlook at the beginning of the year when US President Donald Trump persisted with his trade threats.

Furniture maker Xuan Hoa Viet Nam is planning for a 20% increase in export orders next year by investing $3m on equipment to expand production, General Director Le Duy Anh said in an interview. The company, based near Hanoi, makes office tables and cabinets for clients including Ikea.

“I’m quite optimistic about our sales next year,” Anh said. “We have new customers in Europe while our regular clients also sent more orders than last year.”

When Trump pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in January, it was seen as a blow to Vietnam, which exports about a fifth of its goods to the world’s largest economy.

Instead, a global trade recovery and Vietnam’s young and low-cost workforce have been magnets for international investors like Nestlé SA, which have opened factories in the country this year. That’s helping underpin its economy, which expanded 6.81% this year, among the fastest in the world.

Coming of age

“We’ve seen Vietnam’s coming of age this decade with its rapid transformation to a manufacturing powerhouse,” said Eugenia Victorino, an economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking in Singapore. “The diversification of products and markets provides a tailwind to exports. We are very bullish on growth, though we remain cautious of structural issues of legacy bad debts.”

Gross domestic product rose 7.65% in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, data on Wednesday showed. Exports increased 21% in 2017 to a record $214bn, with mobile phones and parts making up the biggest segment at about a fifth.

The strength of the US economy bodes well for Vietnam, which was the top exporter of goods last year among Southeast Asian nations. Sales to the US rose 8% this year.

Nguyen Sy Hoe, deputy general director of Phu Tai, which makes home furniture for Walmart outlets in the US, forecasts a 30% increase in exports next year. Phu Tai, based in a central province of Vietnam, relies on the US for 40% of its sales.

Vietnam’s shipments abroad accounted for 90% of GDP in 2015, compared with 64% a decade ago, according to the World Bank.

Xuan Hoa is buying three machines that make wooden furniture parts and equipment to make steel cabinets, Anh said. The company is also boosting its workforce by 20% with the hiring of 100 more labourers.

“We’ve increased production and are now preparing for the first shipment next quarter,” Anh said. “We’re very prepared.”

Vietnam’s government is counting on those shipments to bolster growth to as much as 6.7 percent in 2018, the same goal for this year.

“There are some potential risks for next year that we need to be mindful of,” said economist Vu Minh Khuong, Associate Professor at National University of Singapore, who is also a member of the newly-formed economic advisory team to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

“Downside factors may come from the US and some other international markets. But for now, the economy is resilient with good indicators.”

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donald trump jr  |  china  |  trade  |  economy
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