Asia Minute: Trade Friction: Vietnam’s Imbalance with U.S. Growing

Jun 1, 2017

Flag of Vietnam
Credit Wikimedia Commons

The Prime Minister of Vietnam has wrapped up a three-day visit to the United States—meeting President Donald Trump at the White House. The two leaders talked about trade deals worth billions of dollars, but they also talked about a trade imbalance that has changed dramatically in recent years. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.


Trade between the United States and Vietnam has exploded over the past decade—growing by more than nine times according to the office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

U.S.T.R. says exports from the United States grew 43-percent in the last year alone.

Imports from Vietnam have swelled even faster—and it’s that widening trade deficit that has caught the attention of the Trump Administration.

The nature of the trade deficit has also shifted over the years.

Vietnam used to mean factories—cheap labor—and for many companies, an alternative Asian location for low cost assembly outside of China.

Manufacturing is still the bulk of Vietnamese exports—largely clothing and textiles.

Shoes, sneakers and boots also remain high on the list. 

The Vietnam Leather and Footwear Association counts more than four-hundred factories in the southern part of the country alone.

But increasingly, there is a higher technology aspect to Vietnamese exports—from semiconductors to computers, phones, and other electronics.

The economy is largely capitalist, but the government is definitely communist and the power structure is not transparent.

Influence is shared among three positions: the prime minister, the president, and the general secretary of the communist party.