PARTNER-ATLAS

VIETNAM

as a partner for safeguarding our prosperity via free trade and innovation

01 — The key questions for the Partner-Atlas

RELEVANCE: What relevance does Vietnam have for Germany with regards to “safeguarding our prosperity via free trade and innovation”?

Vietnam is one of the few communist countries. A “socialist-oriented market economy” determines the country’s economic status, the communist party vigorously enforces its claim to total power, and the country is subject to fierce criticism in reports on human rights. At the same time, more than three decades of economic growth and political stability have led to Vietnam establishing itself as an influential player in Southeast Asia. 

An early and vigorous response to the Covid crisis was initially able to limit the dangers to health andthe resulting socioeconomic costs relatively well, until the emergence of the Delta andOmicron variants of the virus produced much more dynamic infection rates. After initial problems in vaccine procurement, the country has managed by now to achieve a high vaccination rate of the population and has regained control over infections – thanks also to international vaccine diplomacy. Abandoning its “zero Covid“ policy in March 2022 has enabled the country to open up and to allow everyday life to return almost to normal. 

Internationally, the country is working toward stronger integration, including economic integration. In 2020, Vietnam assumed the ASEAN chairmanship for one year and occupied a seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council until the end of 2021.

Besides Singapore, Vietnam is the only country in Southeast Asia that is a member of all relevant multilateral and bilateral free trade agreements, including the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), which came into force in 2020. Under the EVFTA, customs duties are largely eliminated, Vietnamese products are adapted to EU standards, and government tendering processes along with the service sector continue to open up. With the entry into force of the RCEP in January 2022, Vietnam became part of the world’s largest free trade area. 

Germany and Vietnam have maintained a strategic partnership since 2011. Germany is Vietnam’s largest trading partner within the EU, and within ASEAN, Vietnam is Germany’s second largest trading partner. Many German companies are already represented in Vietnam. Close ties were established during the Cold War. The more than 120,000 people of Vietnamese descent living in Germany along with those who have returned to Vietnam represent an important resource for bilateral relations. Germany enjoys an excellent reputation in Vietnam, the level of which is unique in the region. 

Vietnam ranks in the middle of the 2019 Global Competitive Report’s innovation section (ranked 67of 141). Especially research and development as well as international and multi-stakeholder cooperation are areas that need to be developed. At the same time, the government is trying to push ahead with the expansion of a digital infrastructure and Industry 4.0.

WILLINGNESS: To what extent is Vietnam willing to work with Germany in realising this interest?

Despite the Covid crisis, Vietnam’s leadership and institutions, such as the Vietnamese Chamber of Industry and Commerce, have an interest in a stronger commitment of Germany and German companies. However, the kidnapping of a Vietnamese citizen from Berlin to Hanoi in 2017 had a severe impact on bilateral relations. Normal relations did not resume again until 2019. One reason that the Vietnamese were willing to make concessions was probably that economic relations would have suffered if tensions had continued for a longer period.

As an emerging regional middle-sized power, Vietnam has an interest in diversifying economic relations and, specifically, in expanding bilateral relationships, for example with Germany. This also applies in the context of the economic dependence on China, the all-powerful northern neighbour that is behaving increasingly aggressively. Multilateral action is a strategic approach for Vietnam, in order to compensate for weaknesses in bilateral relations with China.

German companies and products have a good reputation in Vietnam. There is a willingness to reform and open up markets as long as the political power system is not called into question. Robust economic development is one of the strongest arguments for legitimising the authoritarian structures. To this end, Vietnam is creating attractive conditions for manufacturing, encouraging direct foreign investment and advertising the relatively low level of wages.

STATUS QUO:How close is Germany and Vietnam's current cooperation in this area?

German investors already have a footprint in Vietnam in areas such as technological and medical products, industrial warehouses, the automotive industry and logistics. . German direct investment is increasing, but it remains low in comparison to other countries, especially South Korea and Japan. There is a clear trend towards diversifying production capacities and supply chains by establishing new business locations in Vietnam in addition to China (“China + 1“). Foreign trade is generally on the rise. The EU is Vietnam’s second most important export market (with the US being the first, and China the third): the most important export goods are electronics, textiles, clothing as well as shoes. The value of exports to Germany amounts to over 7 billion euros (estimate for 2021), with vehicles and machinery accounting for almost 60 percent of that export volume. German imports to Vietnam are worth 10,7 billion euros (estimate for 2021). The Vietnamese company Vinfast has launched its first cars in cooperation with BMW and has announced to build a plant for producing electric vehicles in Germany. 

Various institutions support business ventures in Vietnam. These include the Delegation of German Industry and Commerce in Vietnam, Germany Trade & Invest and the European Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam. The “Deutsche Haus“ in Ho Chi Minh City epitomises the German footprint in Vietnam, and there is an International German School and the Vietnamese-German University. The sectors most affected by the Covid crisis include tourism and transport, along with the production of electronics and agricultural products.

POTENTIAL:What is the potential for strengthening the partnership between Germany and Vietnam in this area?

The EVFTA in particular offers great opportunities for the EU, Germany and Vietnam. There are also other factors that have the potential for a positive effect on the trading relationship. Even though productivity is rising more slowly than the cost of wages, the level of wages in Vietnam is still relatively low. The young urban population, which is moving into the middle class as its purchasing power increases, is consumption-oriented. Education is generally highly valued in Vietnam. Privatisations of (partly) state-owned companies can also offer opportunities for German investors. The government and the party agree that they must continue developing the value chain further. Ideally, this will lead to improvements in research and development as well as in services. Looking ahead to the post-Covid period, increased efforts focusing on foreign investment and new export markets should be prioritised.

High-level political trips to Vietnam that support German economic policy, thereby benefiting German economic interests, promise high potential. Political contacts can provide important incentives, opening doors for German business. Potential problems can be addressed at political level. Moreover, Germany’s good reputation in Vietnam and the close relations established through migration represent a solid basis for expanding trade relations.

POLICY RECOMMENDATION:What in German foreign policy has to change in order to fully exploit this potential?

Workers’ and trade union rights as well as quality and environmental standards were included in the EVFTA, which should now be followed-up by the implementation of the agreement. 

Basically, both countries share an interest in fair and open world trade. Membership in international and also regional institutions can be used as platforms for a dialogue, in order to promote multilateralism and global rules-based economic relationships.

Vietnam faces a number of economic policy challenges. Germany can make additional important contributions to help Vietnam meet these challenges in the form of technical, financial and political cooperation. The integration of young university graduates into the job market is difficult, and at the same time there is a shortage of skilled workers in non-academic jobs. The consequences of climate change are having a particularly severe impact on Vietnam. Pollution has reached alarming proportions. This jeopardises sustainable economic development, which means that Germany should continue its commitment to green energy, for example.

More legal security and transparency are required as far as the regulatory environment for investment and trade is concerned. German politicians should keep an eye on this. Vietnam’s scores in the Corruption Perception Index (87th out of 180), in the Ease of Doing Business Index (70th out of 190) or the Global Competitiveness Report(67th out of 141) leave room for improvement.

Peter Girke headed the KAS Office in Vietnam from April 2016 to July 2021.

Last update: April 26nd, 2022 (Florian Feyerabend)

VIETNAM

  • Population: 95,529,003
  • Capital: Hanoi
  • Interest: Safeguarding our Prosperity via Free Trade and Innovation
  • Region: Asia and the Pacific
  • Potential partner countries: India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, PR China

04 — The region

Asia and the Pacific

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TAIWAN

Taiwan hat sich zu einer führenden markwirtschaftlichen Kraft für Wohlstand und Innovationen im Indo-Pazifik entwickelt. Taiwans Halbleiterhersteller, angeführt vom Weltmarktführer Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), verfügen über einen globalen Marktanteil im Bereich der Halbleiterfertigung (foundry market) von 67 Prozent (Jahr 2020) und bleiben auch mittelfristig unersetzlich für die Chip-Versorgung der deutschen Industrie.

  • Population: 23.900.000
  • Capital: Taipeh
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CHINA

Today, climate protection is an integral part of German foreign policy. In this context, Germany considers China’s role in international climate policy to be particularly important. China is both the world’s largest emitter of CO2 and largest consumer of coal. On the other hand, China’s expansion of renewable energies is unrivalled anywhere else in the world.

  • Population: 1.450.233.966
  • Capital: Peking
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JAPAN

For Germany, Japan is one of the most important partners in Asia, in terms of economic relations and common values. In addition to the determination to maintain and enhance the multilateral order together, there is also the desire for closer cooperation in future technologies. Japan and Germany face similar challenges, particularly with regard to the future of manufacturing and the demographic development of their societies.

  • Population: 126.476.461
  • Capital: Tokyo
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UZBEKISTAN

Since the end of 2016, Uzbekistan has been pursuing a course of liberalisation and opening. Comprehensive five-year development strategies are being implemented, including reform plans for security policy and foreign policy. Uzbekistan pursues a multilateral and proactive foreign policy. 

  • Population: 34.437.655
  • Capital: Taschkent
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PAKISTAN

Pakistan ist sowohl Herkunfts- als auch Ziel- und Transitland von Flucht und Migration. In der Region ist Pakistan eines der größten Entsendeländer von Arbeitsmigrantinnen und Arbeitsmigranten. Ihre große Mehrheit (96 Prozent) konzentriert sich auf die Länder des Golfkooperationsrats, darunter vor allem Saudi-Arabien und die Vereinigten Arabischen Emirate.

  • Population: 229.545.115
  • Capital: Islamabad
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JAPAN

Japan is one of Germany’s most important partners in values in the Asia-Pacific region. The two countries are closely linked, politically, economically and societally. In addition to their desire to work together to maintain and refine the multilateral, rule-based order, they hope to work even more closely together at a security policy level.

  • Population: 126,476,461
  • Capital: Tokyo
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INDIA

Germany has a vital interest in maintaining and consolidating a world order based on the values of liberal democracy and on the centrality of the United Nations (UN). Given the USA’s global withdrawal, which the coronavirus pandemic has made even more evident, Germany needs to pursue this goal together with other international partners. With the Indo-Pacific Guidelines that were released in September 2020, the Federal Government expressly commits itself to this task in the region that is taking centre stage in the 21st century. India’s importance can hardly be overestimated in this respect: India is already the largest democracy in the world, and within the 2020s, it will replace China as the most populous country. Like Germany, the subcontinent at the Indo-Pacific interface is dependent on a solid security structure, an open trading system, and free navigation in international waters. India is especially severely affected by the consequences of global warming due to its vulnerable ecosystems and is reliant on multilateral approaches to solve this global problem.

  • Population: 1,380,004,385
  • Capital: New Delhi
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AFGHANISTAN

When the Partner Atlas was first developed (2019), Afghanistan was chosen as the fifth country of the region Asia and Pacific. The seizure of power by the Taliban in the summer of 2021, however, makes it currently impossible to think about deepening cooperation with the new government in the area of migration.

The Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation will keep working on Afghanistan within the framework of its regional programme on Southwest Asia. Please visit the website of the Department Asia and Pacific (Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung – Europäische und Internationale Zusammenarbeit (kas.de)) as well as our social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram for the latest information and analyses.

  • Population: 38,928,346
  • Capital: Kabul
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KAZAKHSTAN

Pursuing a multi-vector policy, the country’s leadership has built close economic and political ties to its big neighbours Russia and China, but also to the US and the European Union as well as to the Arab world, Turkey, South Corea, Iran and others. By now, Kazakhstan has also established diplomatic relations to many countries in Africa and South America. For Kazakhstan, there is no alternative to its multi-vector policy, especially in light of the current war in Ukraine.

  • Population: appr. 19 million
  • Capital: Nur-Sultan
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VIETNAM

Vietnam is one of the few communist countries. A “socialist-oriented market economy” determines the country’s economic status, the communist party vigorously enforces its claim to total power, and the country is subject to fierce criticism in reports on human rights. At the same time, more than three decades of economic growth and political stability have led to Vietnam establishing itself as an influential player in Southeast Asia. 

  • Population: 95,529,003
  • Capital: Hanoi
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