Vietnam held its position among the top 30 exporters to the US last year, passing Sweden on increased garment, furniture and shoe shipments, but slipping behind Colombia, which benefited from higher oil prices.
Vietnamâs shipments to the US climbed 20 percent to US$12.61 billion in 2008, according to US International Trade Commission data. Vietnamâs US exports have risen more than 12-fold since 2001, when a trade accord between the two countries took effect.
In 2007, Vietnam moved past four other countries to take the number 30 spot on the list of the top exporters to the worldâs biggest economy, and retained the position in 2008. Trends in shipments to the nationâs biggest market may indicate the extent to which Vietnamâs overall export growth will slow amid global economic distress.
âWeâre hoping that we wonât see the kind of export devastation weâre seeing now in Japan, given that Vietnamâs product mix is more downmarket and hopefully less cyclical,â said Jonathan Pincus, an economist with the Vietnam Program at the Harvard Kennedy School in Ho Chi Minh City.
Japanese exports to the US declined 4 percent last year to $139 billion, according to the US trade commission figures.
China plus one
âVietnam has to compete with other regional countries for a declining number of orders, but thereâs still momentum as a result of the Chinaplus-one model,â said Thomas Siebert, chairman of the HCMC branch of the American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam, referring to foreign exporters who want to avoid over-dependence on producing in one country.
âThe recent events in Thailand have also made Vietnam a bit more attractive,â Siebert said, in a telephone interview Monday. Protests shut Thailandâs main airport last year for more than a week.
Chinese exports to the US rose 4 percent last year to $337.5 billion, making China the top shipper to the US market. Thai exports to the US also gained 4 percent, to $23.5 billion.
Within Southeast Asia, Vietnam also trails Malaysia, whose exports to the US fell 6 percent in 2008 to $30.6 billion; Singapore, whose shipments to the US tumbled 18 percent last year to $15.7 billion; and Indonesia, whose American-bound exports rose 9 percent to $15.7 billion.
Vietnam may eventually become the top exporter to the US among Southeast Asian nations, according to Pincus.
âVietnam is well-placed on the issues that companies think about when they make long-term investment decisions: political stability, wages, labor pool,â said Pincus. âItâs going to be an awful year, but over the long haul, companies still want to be here.â
Vietnamese garment exports, the countryâs top shipment to the US, advanced 20 percent in 2008 to $5.15 billion, while footwear shipments rose 17 percent to $1.21 billion, according to the commissionâs figures.
âVietnam is extremely competitive in garments and shoes, and these are products that people still need to buy,â said Pincus.
âBecause of that, and because Vietnam is linked to global production systems now, it should maintain a healthy share in these industries of what is almost certainly going to be a shrinking market,â he said.
Furniture exports from Vietnam to the US climbed 18 percent last year to $1.46 billion. Vietnamese furniture makers plan to focus on low-cost, high-volume orders in an attempt to boost overall exports of wooden products this year by about a seventh, Ha Noi Moi newspaper reported Monday, citing the Ministry of Industry and Trade.
Crude oil exports to the US jumped 50 percent by value last year to $672 million, while shipments of coffee slipped 5 percent to $293 million.
âTwo years of high-to-very-high prices have given the Vietnamese coffee farmer and trader a financial cushion and encouraged a much more canny, price-sensitive sales behavior,â Fortis Bank and commodities consultant VM Group said, in a January report.