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 has so far managed to limit the dangers to health and the economy, even if the vaccination campaign has moved only slowly.
Internationally, the country is working toward stronger integration, including economic integration. In 2020, Vietnam assumed the ASEAN chairmanship for one year and will occupy a seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council until the end of 2021.
Vietnam is part of various multilateral and bilateral free trade agreements, including the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA). 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.
Germany and Vietnam have maintained a strategic partnership since 2011. Germany is Vietnam’s largest trading partner within the EU. Many German companies are already represented in Vietnam. Close ties were established during the Cold War. The more than 150,000 people of Vietnamese descent living in Germany along with those who have returned to Vietnam represent an important resource for the bilateral relations. Programs for the deployment of Vietnamese workers to Germany are being implemented, particularly in the care sector.
Vietnam ranks in the middle of the 2019 Global Competitive Index’s innovation section (ranked 76 of 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. The Vietnamese company Vinfast has launched its first cars in collaboration with BMW. German direct investment is increasing, but it remains low in comparison to other countries, especially South Korea and Japan. 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 4 billion euros (2018), with vehicles and machinery accounting for almost 60 percent of that export volume. German imports to Vietnam are worth almost 10 billion euros (2018). This makes Germany the 44th largest Vietnamese trading partner for exports and the 25th largest for imports.
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.
After tensions in the bilateral relationship have eased, there will be a return to high-level political meetings once the Covid crisis situation permits. German economic interests can benefit from trips to Vietnam that support German economic policy. 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 (104th out of 180), in the Ease of Doing Business Index (70th out of 190) or the Competitiveness Index (67th out of 141) leave room for improvement.
Peter Girke headed the KAS Office in Vietnam from April 2016 to July 2021.
Last update: July 22nd, 2021
02 — Foreign Office
85 Block D5D
Vuon Dao Tay Ho
04 — The region
Asia and the Pacific
For Germany, Japan is one of the most important economic and value partners in Asia. In addition to the wish for jointly maintaining and further developing the multilateral order, there is also the desire for closer cooperation in future technologies. Japan and Germany face similar challenges, particularly in regard to the future of industrial production and the demographic development of their societies.
- Population: 126,476,461
- Capital: Tokyo
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 next decade 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 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
For decades, Afghanistan was the country with the largest diaspora in the world. In 2015, this position was taken by Syria. Afghanistan looks back on 40 years of fleeing refugees, emigration and expulsion due to civil war, violence and destroyed livelihoods. Since 2001, the country has been one of Germany’s most important security partners in the Middle East. Afghanistan is also a reliable partner in migration policy and has never used migration flows as political leverage.
- Population: 38,928,346
- Capital: Kabul
The Expo 2017 world exhibition, a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (2018), the peace talks on Syria: no country in Central Asia is as oriented towards Europe and Germany as Kazakhstan. Nevertheless, much of what has happened recently in Kazakhstan and Central Asia has remained below Germany’s threshold of perception.
- Population: appr. 19 million
- Capital: Nur-Sultan
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 coronavirus crisis has so far managed to limit the dangers to health and the economy.
- Population: 95,529,003
- Capital: Hanoi